cover of book

Nature's Colony: Empire, Nation and Environment in the Singapore Botanic Gardens
by Timothy P. Barnard
National University of Singapore Press, 2017
Paper: 978-981-4722-22-3 | eISBN: 978-981-4722-45-2
Library of Congress Classification QK73.S62B673 2016

Established in 1859, the Singapore Botanic Gardens are arguably the most important colonial botanic gardens in the world. Not only have the Gardens been important as a park for Singaporeans and visitors, they have had a significant role as a scientific institution and as a testing ground for tropical plantation agriculture implemented around the world. As Timothy P. Barnard shows in Nature’s Colony, underlying each of these uses is a broader story of the Botanic Gardens as an arena where power and the natural world meet and interact.
Initially conceived to exploit nature for the benefit of empire, the Gardens were part of a symbolic struggle by administrators, scientists, and gardeners to assert dominance within Southeast Asia’s tropical landscape, reflecting shifting understandings of power, science, and nature among local administrators and distant mentors in Britain. Consequently, as an outpost of imperial science, the Gardens were instrumental in the development of plantation crops, such as rubber and oil palm, which went on to shape landscapes across the globe. Since the independence of Singapore, the Gardens have played a role in the “greening” of the country and have been named as Singapore’s first World Heritage Site. Setting the Gardens alongside the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and botanic gardens in India, Ceylon, Mauritius, and the West Indies, Nature’s Colony provide the first in-depth look at the history of this influential institution.

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