As the British and French empires expanded, constructing new imperial dimensions through growing commerce and the relationships of industrialisation, the bases of Spanish power were being undermined. Nationalism, revolt, the pursuit of forms of decolonisation (often aided by Spain's rivals) became the prime characteristic of Central and South American politics. This book examines the study of natural history in the Spanish empire in the years 1750-1850, explaining how the Spanish authorities collected specimens for the Real Jardín Botanico and the Real Gabinete de Historia Natural. During this period, Spain made strenuous efforts to survey, inventory and exploit the natural productions of her overseas possessions, orchestrating a series of scientific expeditions and cultivating and displaying American fauna and flora in metropolitan gardens and museums. This book assesses the cultural significance of natural history, emphasising the figurative and utilitarian value with which eighteenth-century Spaniards invested natural objects, from globetrotting elephants to three-legged chickens. Attention is also paid to the ambiguous position of Creole (American-born Spanish) naturalists, who were simultaneously anxious to secure European recognition for their work, to celebrate the natural wealth of their homelands. It considers the role of precision instruments, physical suffering and moral probity in the construction of the naturalist's professional identity. The book assesses how indigenous people, women and Creoles measured up to these demanding criteria. Finally, it discusses how the creation, legitimisation and dissemination of scientific knowledge reflected broader questions of imperial power and national identity.

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This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book considers, accordingly, how location mediated the study of natural history in Spain and its empire. It explores scientific practice in a range of different places, from the metropolitan natural history cabinet and botanical garden to the Andean sierra and the Amazonian jungle, discussing the advantages and constraints offered by different spaces. The book also studies the ambivalent position of Spanish American naturalists in the wider scientific project, highlighting differences between the metropolitan and colonial approaches to natural history. It focuses on the Atlantic to examine the practice of natural history in Spain's American colonies. The book also considers the imperial dynamics of Spain's engagement with natural history, examining how the Spanish authorities collected specimens for the Real Jardín Botanico and the Real Gabinete de Historia Natural.

in Conquering nature in Spain and its empire, 1750–1850

This chapter explores what occasioned the change in attitude towards the natural sciences. It considers what prompted Spaniards, and particularly the Spanish Crown to embrace the study of nature. The book examines how eighteenth-century Spaniards construed the resurgence of natural history in the Spanish Empire as a continuation of an existing scientific tradition that had flourished with particular brilliance in the sixteenth century. It also explores some of the obstacles that would-be naturalists had to surmount in order to accrue respect and recognition. By the end of the eighteenth century, however, the naturalist could hope for a more dignified legacy, perhaps being honoured with a suitable monument, or, at the very least, lending Jose Cadalso's name to a new species of plant. The remarkable thing about the Pineda monument was less its grandeur than its novelty.

in Conquering nature in Spain and its empire, 1750–1850
Gathering nature’s wonders

This chapter examines how Spain harnessed the riches of her vast empire to enrich the Real Gabinete and its counterpart the Real Jardín Botanico. The Gabinete's preoccupation with retaining control of the giant sloth evidences, nevertheless, a desire to consolidate Spanish scientific credentials and to make the Real Gabinete a centre for research into prehistoric quadrupeds. The chapter considers the material contribution of the expeditions in stocking the Real Gabinete and the Real Jardín Botanico. The Real Gabinete likewise constituted a notable source of American wonders for the rest of Europe, particularly in the mineral department. The chapter discusses the classificatory systems imposed on American flora and fauna by the travelling naturalists. The Times heralded the anteater as 'the most remarkable animal which they have acquired since the hippopotamus'. The novelist Charles Dickens, characterised the anteater as 'a zoological wonder', gleefully anticipating a deluge of ant-bear-inspired memorabilia.

in Conquering nature in Spain and its empire, 1750–1850
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This chapter looks at the media that existed for the diffusion of the natural sciences and at the places where ordinary Spaniards could learn about the natural world. For those Spaniards unable to view nature in the flesh, or keen to supplement their knowledge, a proliferation of natural history books and periodicals made reading about nature more practicable. Introducing a collection of plates designed to supplement Paseo, the naturalist suggested that children might amuse themselves by colouring in these images, which had been 'printed on a separate sheet' for this purpose. The chapter highlights the practical advantages associated with natural history and examines some of the techniques used to facilitate its study, particularly, among the younger generation. The natural history museum was the ideal venue in which to appreciate God's wisdom and ingenuity, since it enabled the pious viewer to survey at a glance His most wondrous creations.

in Conquering nature in Spain and its empire, 1750–1850
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This chapter explores the pursuit of the natural sciences on the imperial periphery. Naturalists working on the margins of the Spanish Empire recited a litany of woes. They depicted themselves as beleaguered and isolated scholars, battling valiantly against apathy, inertia and outright hostility. The image of the self-taught scholar arises with some regularity in depictions of Spanish American savants. If Alexander von Humboldt's comments typified the European reaction to meeting a self-taught Spanish American savant, then Francisco Jose de Caldas' response to the same encounter indicates the creole naturalist's desire for guidance, reassurance and recognition. European savants admired their colonial colleagues for their ingenuity and determination, whilst creoles looked to Europe for acceptance, instruction and vindication. The bleak depictions of untutored, marginalised and solitary savants propagated by creoles and sometimes uncritically accepted by their European biographers thus require some degree of moderation, and may have been primarily psychological in nature.

in Conquering nature in Spain and its empire, 1750–1850

This chapter considers what differentiated colonial/peripheral from imperial/metropolitan science in the eighteenth-century Hispanic World. It combines Livingstone's approach to the history of science with the growing historiography on creole patriotism, which posits the gradual emergence of a distinctive creole identity in Spanish America. The study of nature to some extent fortified creole patriotism. It convinced Americans of the economic and scientific potential of their native regions and inspired creole naturalists to undertake research that would honour and glorify their native lands. The chapter suggests that natural history was one of the fields in which this genuine transmutation occurred. It explores how European misconceptions about American nature galvanised savants on the imperial periphery to dispel errors about their homelands, and how their research in turn fortified their patriotic sentiments.

in Conquering nature in Spain and its empire, 1750–1850

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.

in Conquering nature in Spain and its empire, 1750–1850

This chapter focuses in more detail on the figure of the naturalist in Spanish and Spanish American society. The possession and use of specialist equipment enhanced the accuracy and credibility of the naturalist's observations, forming an integral part of his professional identity. In the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries, naturalists founded their professional identity not only on their possession of precision instruments, but also on their heroism and dedication. They portrayed themselves as martyrs to science who risked their lives in pursuit of knowledge. The chapter explores how practitioners of natural history conducted, presented and defined themselves in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and what stereotypes surrounded men of science in this period. It considers how far Spanish scholars subscribed to prevailing European conceptions of the heroic, self-sacrificing scientific explorer and where both creole savants and indigenous informants fitted within this rhetorical framework.

in Conquering nature in Spain and its empire, 1750–1850
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The late eighteenth century witnessed a growing engagement with natural history in Spain and its American colonies. This engagement was supported financially and institutionally by the Spanish Crown, which orchestrated scientific expeditions, patronised aspiring naturalists and founded museums and botanical gardens. For the Spanish Government, natural history offered a new and enticing source of national glory and material wealth. The collection, classification and exhibition of natural objects had an important figurative value for the ability to amass specimens from across the globe symbolised both the extension of Spain's empire and the effectiveness of its bureaucracy. From the metropolitan centre, the enterprise of natural history collection and classification represented an exercise in economic rejuvenation and imperial posturing. Imperial implosion severed important ties with Europe, disrupting commerce and scholarly networks.

in Conquering nature in Spain and its empire, 1750–1850