- Translating Nature: Cross-Cultural Histories of Early Modern Science ed. by Jaime Marroquín Arredondo and Ralph Bauer
This volume aims to disrupt a narrative of the rise of modern science predicated on a logic of discovery by highlighting the contributions to knowledge made by the narrative’s subaltern “others,” identified by the editors as Native Americans and Catholic Iberians (2). Individual contributions coalesce around the notion of translation, which the editors argue should replace discovery as the key mode of knowledge production in the [End Page 477] period. Following Daniela Bleichmar’s contribution, translation is conceived as signifying both a change of language and of place. Translation thus understood, the editors claim, provides a mechanism by which historians of science can grapple with the global nature of their subject of study and its relationship with hegemonic centers of power.
The volume is divided into four parts. In Part I, Juan Pimentel, Marroquín Arredondo, and Luis Millones Figueroa examine Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific, the methods of Francisco Hernaóndez, and Bernabé Cobo’s 1653 Historia del Nuevo Mundo to address the translation of Amerindian knowledge into a Spanish imperial context. In Part I, the translation of Amerindian knowledge in the Atlantic world more broadly is considered by Daniela Bleichmar, Marcy Norton, and Sarah Rivett through their studies of the production and subsequent editions of the Codex Mendoza, the relationship between Francis Willughby’s 1678 Ornithology and the writings of Hernaóndez and his Nahua informants, and British and French studies of native North American languages. In Part III, Ralph Bauer, John Slater, and Sara Miglietti’s consideration of the English alchemist Richard Eden, Spanish naturalists’ turn to vernacular manuscript dissemination, and the questionnaire as a tool for collecting geo-ethnographic information extends this analysis to focus more specifically on the relationship between knowledge production in the Spanish context and the rest of Europe. Finally, through an examination of Franíois-Madeleine Vallée’s Mémoire and works by Pedro Murillo Velarde, Christopher Parsons, and Ruth Hill consider the role that translation played in the transoceanic history of science during the eighteenth century. An afterword by William Eamon affirms the value of approaching the history of early modern science through the prism of translation and at the same time validates the usefulness of the notion of discovery.
One of the strongest aspects of the collection is its attention to the appropriation of Amerindian and Iberian knowledge claims in a wider European and Atlantic context. This attention to knowledge production and translation beyond the Iberian world offers concrete points of interaction to reinforce a well-developed argument in the field that Iberia should play a central role in the historiography of early modern science. Through its attention to erasures of attribution on the part of Iberian and European actors, the volume simultaneously extends these claims to encompass Amerindian actors and their knowledge claims and practices.
The editors contend that the contributions address how “translation across cultures” played a role in the “history of science in the context of Europe’s early modern colonial encounters (13). One may be tempted to quibble with the disjunction between the universalizing nature of such claims and the reality that the volume addresses primarily a European scientific tradition and, with the exception of Ruth Hill’s contribution, colonial encounters in the Americas. It might be worth asking, as Kapil Raj and Projit Mukharji have done with respect to science in South Asia, both how knowledge production differs in other early modern colonial contexts and how the subaltern [End Page 478] communities whose contributions shaped the process of knowledge production interacted with, appropriated, or were affected by the product that resulted. The fact that it is always possible to make an approach more global, however, should not detract from the achievement of this collection, which, rather than positioning itself as circumscribed to a geographic region overlooked in the traditional historiography, boldly proclaims its capacity to speak to all of early...