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Experiencing Nature

Experiencing Nature

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    Experiencing Nature
    Book Description:

    As Spain colonized the Americas during the sixteenth century, Spanish soldiers, bureaucrats, merchants, adventurers, physicians, ship pilots, and friars explored the natural world, gathered data, drew maps, and sent home specimens of America's vast resources of animals, plants, and minerals. This amassing of empirical knowledge about Spain's American possessions had two far-reaching effects. It overturned the medieval understanding of nature derived from Classical texts and helped initiate the modern scientific revolution. And it allowed Spain to commodify and control the natural resources upon which it built its American empire.

    In this book, Antonio Barrera-Osorio investigates how Spain's need for accurate information about its American colonies gave rise to empirical scientific practices and their institutionalization, which, he asserts, was Spain's chief contribution to the early scientific revolution. He also conclusively links empiricism to empire-building as he focuses on five areas of Spanish activity in America: the search for commodities in, and the ecological transformation of, the New World; the institutionalization of navigational and information-gathering practices at the Spanish Casa de la Contratación (House of Trade); the development of instruments and technologies for exploiting the natural resources of the Americas; the use of reports and questionnaires for gathering information; and the writing of natural histories about the Americas.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79594-5
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 1592 King Philip II of Spain received a sample of a tree with aromatic properties from Puerto Rico.¹ The governor of Puerto Rico had sent the sample, suggesting that physicians study those properties to determine the tree’s economic value. Philip II ordered his physician, Doctor Mercado, to conduct tests and report back to the president of the Council of Indies. On the basis of this report, the president of the council would make a decision about the economic potential of the tree and then inform the governor of Puerto Rico.

    In this book, I explore the history of scientific...

  5. ONE Searching the Land for Commodities
    (pp. 13-28)

    In 1530 a new kind of balsam made its way to Spain from the New World. The crown ordered the merchants interested in exploiting balsam to send samples of it to physicians and hospitals. They, in turn, would send reports to merchants and royal officials:

    Physicians and surgeons of any city, town, and place of our kingdoms and possessions, before they talk or publish inexactitudes about this balsam, should have unequivocal information [cierta noticia] about it; and when, by experience or by other method, they find out that it is harmful for wounds or any other illness, they should declare...

    (pp. 29-55)

    In 1598 the Englishman Richard Hakluyt described the navigational activities of the Casa de la Contratación in Seville for his English readers:

    [The] late Emperour Charles the fift, considering the rawnesse of his Seamen, and the manifolde shipwracks which they susteyned in passing and repassing betweene Spaine and the West Indies, with an high reach and great foresight, established no onely a Pilote Major, for the examination of such as sought to take charge of ships in that voyage, but also founded a notable Lecture of the Art of Navigation, which is read to this day in the Contractation house...

    (pp. 56-80)

    In 1519 European ships arrived on Mexican shores. A man from Mictlancuauhtla who saw the ships went, of his own accord, to Motecuhzoma’s palace and told him the following:

    Our lord and king, forgive my boldness. I am from Mictlancuauhtla. When I went to the shores of the great sea, there was a mountain range or small mountain floating in the midst of the water, and moving here and there without touching the shore. My lord, we have never seen the like of this, although we guard the coast and are always on watch.¹

    This New World/Old World encounter would...

  8. FOUR Circuits of Information: REPORTS FROM THE NEW WORLD
    (pp. 81-100)

    Around 1533 Charles V made the following request to his officials in New Spain:

    Because we want to have complete information about the things of that land and its qualities, I order you, after having received this one [royal decree], to make a long and particular report on the greatness of that land covering its width as well as its length, and about its limits. You should write very specifically its proper names and how its boundaries are delimited and marked. Likewise, [make a report] about the qualities of the land and its wonders, particularly those of each town, and...

    (pp. 101-127)

    On March 12, 1579, bad weather hindered the Spanish fleet from leaving for the New World from the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The day before, the fleet had attempted to leave and was forced to return. One ship was wrecked; and forty women and ten or twelve men drowned. Another ship was damaged but able to return to port.¹ The newly appointed bishop of Tucumán, Fray Francisco de Vitoria (1578–1584; d. 1592), was aboard one of the ships and wrote to the king about the situation, commenting: “necessarily if God does not provide a little bit of better...

    (pp. 128-134)

    Spain’s encounter with the New World launched Europe into the first imperial age of the modern world. By the sixteenth century, ships, charts, guns, Genesis, and the New Testament had intertwined in a Christian ideology of domination. Yet technology and God were not enough to establish an empire: an empire was and is, above all, the product of communication and information. Knowledge forms the lifeblood of any empire. The activities of artisans, merchants, royal officials, and entrepreneurs in America constituted the early Scientific Revolution. This means, first, that the Spaniards validated personal experience as a source of knowledge. As opposed...

  11. APPENDIX 1 Pilots and Cosmographers at the Casa de la Contratación
    (pp. 135-139)
  12. APPENDIX 2 Instruments
    (pp. 140-146)
  13. APPENDIX 3 Spanish Scientific Books
    (pp. 147-150)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 151-188)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 189-204)
  16. Index
    (pp. 205-212)