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Hauck Botanical Exhibit

Engelbert Kaempfer, 1651-1716

Amoenitatum Exoticarum
Politico-Physico-Medicarum Fasciculi V.

Lemgo: Henrici Wilhelmi Meyeri, 1712.

Cover of Amoenitatum Exoticarum
Cover

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Engelbert Kaempfer, German physician and naturalist, known for his tour of Persia, Indonesia, and Japan between 1683 and 1693, wrote two books about his travels. Amoenitatum Exoticarum, published in 1712, is important for its illustrations and descriptions of the flora of the Orient. His History of Japan, published posthumously in 1727, was the chief source of Western knowledge about the country for more than a century.

He spent two years in Japan studying its history, customs, and plant life.

Kaempfer, born in Lemgo, Germany, was the son of a Lutheran pastor. That he was an inveterate traveler is evident in his schooling. He attended Latin schools in Lemgo, Hameln, the Gymnasia of Luneburg and Lubeck, and the Athenaeum of Danzig, and studied at universities in Thorn, Cracow, (where he received a master's degree), and Koenigsberg from 1674 to 1681. He then went to Sweden (Dictionary of Scientific Biography 1970, v. 7, 204).

Frontispiece and Title page of Amoenitatum Exoticarum
Frontispiece and Title Page

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In 1683 he joined a Swedish trade mission destined for Persia and arrived in Isfahan in 1685. The embassy waited for over a year to be recognized at the Persian court. During this time, Kaempfer studied the language, geography, and plants of the region. He did not return to Sweden with the embassy, but joined a fleet of the Dutch East India Company stationed in the Persian Gulf as a physician. He spent several years exploring this area. By 1689 he had traveled to Java and in 1690 was appointed a member of a Dutch trade mission bound for Japan.

Serpents from Amoenitatum Exoticarum
Serpents - India

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In 1641 Japan adopted a foreign relations policy of seclusion (Sakoku) that was in force until 1853. Its ports were closed to trade with foreign countries. The Dutch East India Company established a trading post on a man-made island (not considered Japanese soil) in the bay of Nagasaki. Kaempfer was able to enter the country at Nagasaki and spent two years in Japan studying its history, customs, and plant life.

Kaempfer studied the language, geography and plants of Persia.

Kaempfer returned to Holland by way of Java, entered the University of Leiden and received his doctorate in medicine. In 1694 he "settled" on an estate near his hometown intending to write about his travels. His appointment as court physician to Friedrich Adolf, however, gave him little time to write. He died in 1716, having produced only the Amoenitatum Exoticarum, which includes information about Japanese paper-making, natural history, a chapter on the date palm, and descriptions of about 500 plants. "He was the first western scientist to describe the tree Ginkgo biloba . . . ." thought to be extinct (Wikipedia, "Engelbert Kaempfer").

Gingko from Amoenitatum Exoticarum
Ginkgo

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Sir Hans Sloane acquired Kaempfer's papers and had the manuscript account of his travels in Japan translated into English and published under the title, History of Japan. Kaempfer's journals and papers are in the Hans Sloane papers in the British Library.

Sources:

British Library Manuscripts Catalogue. Index search for "Kaempfer" on Internet available at http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/manuscripts; accessed December 21, 2006.
 
Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 1970. vol. 7, pp. 204-205.
 
Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago, 1965. vol. 13, pp. 183-184
 
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia."Engelbert Kaempfer" on Internet available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engelbrecht_Kaempfer; accessed December 21, 2006.

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