Whether as sublime landscape, malignant wilderness or site for environmental conflicts and eco-tourism, tropical nature is to a great extent an American and European imaginative construct, conveyed in literature, travel writing, drawings, paintings, photographs and diagrams. These images are central to Nancy Leys Stepan's view that a critical examination of the tropicalization of nature can remedy some of the most persistent misrepresentations of the tropics and its peoples. This book reflects on the work of several 19th- and 20th-century scientists and artists, including Alexander von Humboldt, Alfred Russel Wallace, Louis Agassiz, Sir Patrick Manson and Margaret Mee. Their careers illuminate several aspects of tropicalization: science and art in the making of tropical pictures; the commercial and cultural boom in things tropical in the modern period; photographic attempts to represent tropical hybrid races; anti-tropicalism and its role in an emerging environmentalist sensibility; and visual depictions of disease in the new tropical medicine. Essential to Stepan's analysis are the responses to European projections of artists, scientists and intellectuals living in tropical regions.
Nancy Leys Stepan is Professor of History at Columbia University, New York. Her previous books include 'The Hour of Eugenics': Race, Gender and Nation (1991).