Seminario Hª Ciencia "Global Nature Studies: Natural History, Local Knowledge, Transimperial Connections (three short lectures)"

Mackenzie Cooley / Duygu Yildirim / Anna Toledano

(Stanford University)

Lunes, 11 de diciembre de 2017, a las 11 horas


Carrer Egipcíaques 15, 08001 Barcelona

Actividad organizada por José Pardo Tomás (Grupo de Historia de la Ciencia, Institución Milà i Fontanals – CSIC, Barcelona)


The Animals of New Spain from Hernández to Humboldt

Mackenzie Cooley

“The most interesting productions [of the animal kingdom] for the prosperity of the inhabitants have been introduced from the ancient continent,” wrote Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) of Mexico in his Essai politique sur le royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne (1811). When visiting New Spain in 1803, during the closing years of the colonial era, Humboldt trekked across the Spanish Viceroyalty’s heartlands. In so doing, he followed the imperial routes along which the sixteenth century natural observers whose works he quoted had also journeyed.

In these travels, he studied the New Spanish animal kingdom. More than two centuries earlier, King Philip II’s government had initiated the first census of the Americas by asking officials and local informants about “the animals and the birds, wild and domestic, from the land and those that were brought from Spain, and how they breed and multiply on the land.” The responses became the Relaciones Geográficas; Humboldt was engaged in answering the same question. Hogs, hens, horses, and sheep caught his interest, raising the question of Amerindian animal domestication and what might have been. Ultimately, Humboldt’s attention rested on economically useful animals both pre-Columbian, including cochineal and pearl oysters, and Spanish.

This paper uses traditional and digital historical techniques to analyze changes in American nature between the Spanish Conquest and Humboldt’s writing. It places Alexander von Humboldt’s writings on the animals of New Spain in conversation with essential sixteenth century sources, just as Humboldt himself had done.


Coffee, Medicine, and Epistemology: Encounters on The Discourse of Coffee

Duygu Yildirim

When Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli (1658-1730), a Bolognese natural scientist and Catholic militant, came to Constantinople in 1679, he aimed to observe the Bosphorus to engage with contemporary discussions on oceanography. However, his interest in the Ottoman world expanded as he moved towards this intellectual trajectory, which resulted in works on the military system of the Ottomans, the currents of the Bosphorus, and medicinal uses of coffee. While working on these different subjects, Marsigli met Ottoman intellectuals in the capital. His Bevanda asiatica: Trattatello sul caffè (1685) was replete with references to one of these renowned figures, Hezarfenn Hüseyin (d. 1691-2), a contemporary encyclopedist. Hezarfenn’s accounts on coffee in his medical encyclopedias were very brief, but Marsigli fully verbalized Hezarfenn’s voice in his work.
Marsigli’s encounter with Hezarfenn in Constantinople fits into his interest in attaining “universal knowledge,” a quest for knowledge that could rise above the specificities of time and place. According to Marsigli, Ottoman knowledge culture and Ottoman nature belonged to the universal mechanical order. His Bevanda asiatica on the medicinal benefits of coffee on the universal human body most clearly embodies this notion. This paper focuses on Marsigli’s medical epistemology through a close reading of his work. I aim to demonstrate how his selection of scholarly references from medicinal traditions was changeable according to his post-humanist discourse on the Ottomans. In turn, how did this discourse determine the epistemological boundaries between intellectual “fields,” such as medicine, geography, and history, and shape their particular observational and experimental methods?


Indefatigable Azara: A Spanish Naturalist Mapping South America

Anna Toledano

Félix de Azara was born on May 18, 1742 in the little municipality of Barbuñales in Huesca, Aragon, Spain. A civil engineer in the Spanish army by training, he embarked in 1781 on the state-sponsored mission to survey the new territories of Paraguay. The goal of Azara’s journey was to establish a fixed international boundary with Portugal of more than one thousand miles extending down from Bolivia all the way toward the coast near the Río de la Plata. Unlucky Azara soon realized that the army had sent him on a fool’s errand. The Portuguese had no intention of holding up their end of the agreement. He made some efforts to complete his task on his own, but even the act of surveying proved extremely difficult.

When it became obvious that the Portuguese would never arrive, Azara decided to study the animals and peoples in Paraguay to pass the time. He kept meticulous records on his daily travels as well as the flora, fauna, and ecology of the region. Azara collected as many specimens as he could find, endeavoring to amass a complete set of local bird species. Although not its intention, the Spanish government created this Azara, the accidental naturalist, through its efforts toward geographic expansion. This paper will examine Azara’s dual roles as a soldier and a man of science within the context of the natural and national landscape which he sought to observe, understand, and decode.

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