Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)


Modern Languages and Literatures


Brett Brehm

Committee Members

Gérard Chouin

Magali Compan


In 1841, a 12-year-old slave named Edmond Albius discovered how to fertilize the vanilla plant by hand on the island of Réunion. While there were attempts to obtain recognition and compensation for the young man, they were met with little to no success. While the vanilla industry blossomed into a lucrative business throughout the remainder of the 19th century, Edmond Albius died in 1880, poor, and never having been widely recognized for his contribution.

This project tracks the development of the non-native vanilla plant in Réunion from its initial introduction in 1819, to the end of the 19th century. At the micro-level is the story of the individual, Edmond Albius, and the contemporary attempts to both prove and discredit his actions. Beyond this, the project attempts to examine the broader implications of colonial botany during the period of French imperialism. This thesis examines the institutions and the state-funded botanists that engaged in agricultural development, specifically in the context of vanilla.

In doing so, the chapters trace certain themes such as the legacies of colonial archives, the global versus the local, and the intersection between botanical knowledge and power structures. In tracing these themes, this paper analyzes how the vanilla industry in Réunion was the result of a complex process dictated by competition, power hierarchies, and a quest for the expansion of plant knowledge.

On-Campus Access Only