- Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800
There is a very large and curious museum in Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel in the Azores. The Carlos Machado Museum (begun in the 1880s) is a sprawling natural history collection that contains examples of most seaborne animals in the North Atlantic as well as land animals living in the Azores, birds, botany, geology, mineralogy, ethnography, and many other materials that completely fill the large former monastery of Santo André, where the collection is housed. Wandering from room to room, the visitor is struck by the wide-ranging scientific curiosity of the original curator, Dr. Carlos Machado. One's first reaction to such a collection might be its perceived uniqueness and to question its utility. This collection of essays shows how both impressions are erroneous. In a very real sense, Machado was continuing the work outlined in this important and pathbreaking new work, which introduces the reader to the nearly totally ignored topic (in English-speaking works) of science (in a very broad sense) in the early modern Iberian world.
The work is divided into four parts: "Reassessing the Role of Iberia in Early Modern Science," "New Worlds, New Sciences," "Knowledge Productions: Local Contexts, Global Empires," and "Commerce, Curiosities, and the Circulation of Knowledge." [End Page 153]
After a brief introduction to the collection of essays by Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, part 1, "Reassessing the Role of Iberia in Early Modern Science," presents two historiographical overviews of the literature. David Goodman ("Science, Medicine, and Technology in Colonial Spanish America") discusses Spanish Colonial America, and Palmira Fontes da Costa and Henrique Leitão ("Portuguese Imperial Science") do the same for the Portuguese side. Both essays are very strong and quite complete. Goodman notes that the Spanish have produced a wide range of scientific works ranging from cartography to botany, while Fontes da Costa and Leitão note that the Portuguese have produced a great deal in nautical-related publications at the expense of neglecting many other areas. If anyone wanted an orientation to the current state of scientific-related publications in early modern Iberia or these former empires, I would highly recommend these essays, which also include complete references in their notes.
The editors state that "a second aim of the volume is to challenge traditional core/periphery models that place Europe at the center of scientific knowledge production by characterizing colonial science as essentially subordinate, derivative, or imitative" (p. xxi). Part 2 of this collection, "New Worlds, New Sciences," then challenges these assumptions by "focusing on the ways in which the natural world of the Americas served to complicate and alter European categories of knowledge . . ." (p. xxi). The three essays that make up this section all deal with science in Iberia itself. María Portuondo ("Cosmography at the Casa, Consejo, and Corte during the Century of Discovery") discusses the tension among the overlapping locales of scientific inquiry in early modern Spain: the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade), the Consejo de Indias (Council of Indies), and the Royal Court. In her discussion, she also clarifies the roles played by each of these three institutions and how they supported each other. Onésimo Almeida ("Science during the Portuguese Maritime Discoveries") examines the interaction between what he labels "experimenters and theoreticians" and those who sailed the seas and made written observations and those who stayed behind in Portugal and examined these findings. Almeida quite correctly notes the remarkable figures of D. João de Castro and Pedro Nunes, excellent examples of this interaction. Juan Pimentel ("Baroque Natures") delves into the writings of the Jesuit scholar Juan E. Nieremberg and his understanding and explanations of the unfolding natural history of the Americas.
Part 3, "Knowledge Productions: Local Contexts, Global Empires," is the flip side of part 2 in that it "focuses on the importance of local scientific traditions that developed in the empire," with emphasis on [End Page 154] the reality that...