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Colonizing science: nature and nations in the Spanish world, c.1750-1850

By Helen Louise Cowie


This thesis examines the development ofnatural history in the Spanish Empire (1750-1850). I explore why the Spanish Crown promoted scientific institutions and expeditions in the second halfofthe eighteenth century, and I situate Spanish engagement with natural history within an imperial context. One Spanish commentator, scrutinising the contents ofthe Real Gabinete de Historia Natural in 1788, gloried that 'we have seen form this immense collection of singularities ofnature, brought at considerable expense, not only from all regions ofEurope, but also from Asia, Africa and America; so that all parts ofthe world may contribute to forming the most complete treasure ofNatural History that exists in the Universe'. I suggest that Spain's capacity to procure and exhibit exotic natural treasures reflected the potency ofher imperial structures. I also address the social, religious and economic benefits associated with the classification, collection and cultivation of natural objects. I am especially interested in the part that Spanish Americans played in this process, and the ways in which the development ofthe natural sciences on the imperial periphery intersected with the evolution of creole patriotism in the late colonial period. I consider how the creation, legitimisation and dissemination of scientific knowledge reflected broader questions of imperial power and national identity. I examine the ambiguous position ofcreole naturalists, who were simultaneously anxious to secure European recognition for their work, to celebrate the natural wealth oftheir homelands and, in some cases, to vindicate local forms of knowledge against purportedly universal European systems such as Linnaean botany, and I extend this analysis beyond independence, asking whether political freedom fomented or compromised the pursuit of natural history in the former colonies

Topics: DP, QH
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