Helen Cowie
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Civilisation and barbarism
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This chapter explores the development of natural history in Spanish America after independence. It examines the role played by science in the construction of nations and national identities in the turbulent years after Spanish rule. In addition to recognising the practical advantages to be derived from natural history, post-colonial elites appreciated the cultural value of museums and universities. They equated science explicitly with civilisation and they modelled their new institutions on those of northern Europe and North America, courting the approval of Old World observers. Science acted as a barometer for civilisation, with scientific failure being blamed on the barbarism of both the former imperial regime and uncultivated American caudillos. Specialisation in local specimens thus offered Spanish American states the best chance of international scientific renown and the most useful resource to travelling naturalists.

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