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Reviewed by:
  • The Colonial Spanish-American City
  • Stuart McCook
The Colonial Spanish-American City. By Jay Kinsbruner. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005. Pp. xv, 182. Illustrations. Appendix. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $40.00 cloth; $18.95 paper.

The life and work of Swiss-born naturalist Henri Pittier have been explored in a number of recent articles, monographs and edited collections published in English, Spanish, and German. Pittier has drawn such extensive attention because of his long career in Costa Rica and Venezuela, where he founded several important institutions and conducted pioneering research in natural history and geography. Yacher documents the minutiae of Pittier's professional and personal lives in Costa Rica, focussing in particular on his work as a geographer. [End Page 655]

Pittier was the first professionally-trained geographer to reside permanently in Costa Rica. He established the important Instituto Físico-Geográfico (IFG) in 1889. For a decade, Pittier and the IFG constituted the hub of a small scientific renaissance in Costa Rica. Pittier collected and synthesized information on Costa Rica's geography, ethnography, and natural history. Yacher reconstructs Pittier's extensive network of correspondents around the world. He argues that Pittier's correspondence, institution-building, and publications helped make Costa Rica visible to the international scientific community, giving it an international presence. This brief renaissance, however, gradually ground to a halt in the early 20th century, as an economic crisis caused the Costa Rican government to withdraw funding from most of Pittier's projects. Pittier left Costa Rica in 1905, to continue a distinguished career as a tropical naturalist in the United States and then in Venezuela.

Other studies have already explored most facets of Pittier's life and work discussed here. This work is primarily useful for its emphasis on Pittier's accomplishments as a geographer, and for the unprecedented level of detail that it brings to Pittier's personal and professional lives in Europe and in Costa Rica. Its insights could have been greatly enriched had it engaged more systematically with the arguments presented in the existing secondary literature on Pittier, and with the rapidly-growing historical literature on science in Latin America.

Stuart McCook
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, Canada


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