Nature’s Colony: Empire, Nation and Environment in the Singapore Botanic Gardens

Established in 1859, Singapore’s Botanic Gardens has been important as a park for Singaporeans and visitors, a scientific institution, and as an economic testing ground and launchpad for tropical plantation agriculture around the world. Underlying each of these stories is the broader narrative of the Botanic Gardens an arena where power and the natural world meet and interact, a story that has impact far beyond the boundaries of its grounds.

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. With the independence of Singapore, the Gardens has had to find a new role, first in the “greening” of post-independence Singapore, and now as Singapore’s first World Heritage Site.

Setting the Singapore gardens alongside the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and botanic gardens in India, Ceylon, Mauritius and the West Indies, this book tells the story of nature’s colony — a place where plants were collected, classified and cultivated to change our understanding of the region and world.

About The Author

Timothy P. Barnard is associate professor in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore. He is the editor of Nature Contained: Environmental Histories of Singapore and Contesting Malayness: Malay Identity Across Boundaries, also published by NUS Press.

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