The Gospel of the Gum: Eucalyptus Enthusiasm and the Modern Mediterranean, ca. 1848-1900
Perry, Jackson Ryan
McNeill, John R.
The Australian eucalyptus has become one of the two most commonly planted tree genera in the world in the last two centuries. This dissertation follows the eucalyptus as it became ubiquitous across mediterranean landscapes in the late 19th century. The modern symbiosis between humans and these gum trees began in lowland environments around the Mediterranean Sea and in similar locales elsewhere in the world, notably French Algeria, Italy, and the mediterranean climate zone of California. People across many societies became convinced that the quick-growing and odorous eucalyptus could counteract or prevent malaria, in addition to serving various other purposes. Thanks to new technologies of steam and print, the gospel of the gum spread rapidly in scientific networks and public consciousnesses in the 1860s and 1870s.Long valued by Aboriginal Australians, Eucalyptus captured the world’s attention in the 19th century. Eucalyptographers—typically men of science, businessmen, and bureaucrats—forged local and global networks that moved eucalyptus seeds and knowledge about the tree from Australia to mediterranean lowlands. The efforts of these few eucalyptographers, called “apostles” by some contemporaries, have dominated historical accounts of the tree’s diffusion. However, the majority of eucalyptus enthusiasts in the late 19th century were actually laypeople who adopted the novel tree based on limited information, as a pragmatic and highly motivated response to material conditions. Their sanitary, economic, and political aims generated intense interest in ways to improve mediterranean environments, which eucalyptographers and their favored tree might satisfy. This material and cultural history of the demand that fueled the world’s first eucalyptus boom illuminates broader histories of colonization, nationalism, economic modernization, and social change that animated 19th-century mediterranean societies. Having enraptured believers on multiple continents, the gospel of the gum demands a transnational analysis. The main chapters of this dissertation examine gum fever as it developed in multiple Mediterraneans: French, Italian, Catholic, British, Ottoman, and Californian. Algerian, Australian, Italian, French, British, and American archival sources, as well as published primary sources in Arabic, English, French, and Italian, reveal the breadth and depth of eucalyptus enthusiasm across imperial, national, and regional boundaries in the 19th century.
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