Science in a Sugar Colony: Maria Sybilla Merian and the Insects of Surinam
James Byrne, Humanities Tutor (History of Science)
In 1699, the German-Dutch naturalist and painter Maria Sybilla Merian traveled with her daughter to the Dutch colony of Surinam. While she was there, she made observations and gathered specimens of plants and insects that would lead to her Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, a landmark work of entomology. But Surinam wasn’t just a place with exotic bugs. It was a colony devoted to sugar plantations worked by slave labor, and Merian drew on indigenous and enslaved African informers and guides to gather her material. In this talk, we’ll use Merian’s work in Surinam to explore the links between European and colonialism and science, and to see how indigenous knowledge was appropriated and transformed by European scholarship.