The Jesuit Pharmacy, or, The Global Circulation of Drugs and Medical Knowledge in the Early Modern Missions

When and Where

Friday, March 05, 2021 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Online Event


Dr. Justin Rivest (Cambridge University)
Oana Baboi (University of Toronto)


This JHRG event consists in two talks bearing on the question of the circulation of medical knowledge and materia medica in the Jesuit missions of the 17th century:

1. “Sharing recipes: Early Modern Jesuit Encounters with Chinese Medical Ways,” by Oana Baboi (Ph.D. Candidate, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto.)

In 1658, the Flemish Jesuit François de Rougemont arrived at Macau. During his two-year voyage to join the China mission, he gathered medicinal recipes from apothecaries, physicians, fellow travellers, and missionaries encountered along the way. My presentation discusses how this accumulated curative knowledge shaped Rougemont and other Jesuit missionaries’
understanding of Chinese medical ways.

2. “The Barkless Jesuits in Beijing: or, Why the ‘European Remedy’ Went to China,” by Dr. Justin Rivest (Ph.D., History of science and medicine, Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow in the Faculty of History and Research Fellow at Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge)

Jesuit missionaries loom large in the booming literature on “colonial bioprospecting” in the early modern world. And for good reason: they were at the front lines of the European appropriation of indigenous materia medica, and there can be little doubt that the far-flung networks of the Society of Jesus played an outsized role in the early globalization of medicinal plants. The quintessential case study is that of cinchona, the source of anti-malarial alkaloid quinine, which was so tied to the Jesuits in the seventeenth century that it was often called “Jesuits’ Bark.” My paper looks to a specific case in China at the court of the Kangxi Emperor to ask about the flipside of the Jesuit role in this globalization process, namely, their role in the dissemination of novel European medicines—particularly standardized medications based on potent chemical substances—to non-European populations. In so doing it also opens a vantage point for de-centering Eurocentric categories of the exotic.

PDF iconJesuit Pharmacy flyer 5 March 2021.pdf

Contact Information

Jean-Olivier Richard


Jesuit History Research Group, Jackman Humanities Institute