While the racial categories of the Spanish Empire in the Philippines are well known in Philippine historiography, little scholarship examines the Empire’s racial epistemology of the archipelago. Spanish botanical writing offers a novel way to understand how scientists racialized the native or indio body since botany was one of the premier sciences in Spain’s overseas possessions. As a prolific field for secular and non-secular researchers on the archipelago, botany provides insight into how these researchers racially constructed their native informants, patients, and parishioners. More than a racial categorical device, “the native” was necessary for helping systematize the plant life of the colony.
Part of my doctoral project aims to discover how Spanish imperial botany of the late nineteenth century contributed to the construction of flora that is presumably Philippine. With support from the Center for Race and Gender, I will examine how botanical descriptions produce ideas of the native and of the colony. This will help me understand how Spanish botanical writings render “the native” of the archipelago and what these writings reveal about the racial epistemology of the late Spanish Empire.