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Trade, travel and plunder

The slides for this week's lecture can be downloaded here

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were the great age of European sea voyages and discoveries. Portuguese navigators sailed down the West coast of Africa, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and moved eastwards into the Indian Ocean; Spanish sailers travelled West, stumbled upon the islands of the Caribbean and made their way inland. They were driven by greed--especially the desire for gold, spices, land, and slaves--and by the allure of the unknown. Exploration went hand-in-hand with trade, conquest, and settlement. Such a large movement of people and materials could not fail to have an effect on natural inquiry. Some historians have argued for an 'Iberian scientific revolution' in the sixteenth century that was driven by the voyages of discovery and that anticipated the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the latter being centred on Italy, England, France and the Dutch Republic. Other historians are more circumspect, pointing to the limited circulation of exotic materials through Europe, the role of ancient conceptual frameworks in interpreting new plants and minerals, and the persistence of the distinction between mathematics and natural philosophy. The primary reading this week is an early and influential book on the natural history of the Americas, written by a Spanish Jesuit who arrived in Peru in 1570.


Why did Acosta write and publish this book?

What people and institutions did Acosta rely upon in gathering his information about the Americas?

How did Acosta make sense of new the new natural phenomena he encountered in the Americas?

Essential readings

Vogel, 'European Expansion and Self-Definition', in CHS3 - Warwick ebook

Father Joseph de Acosta, Natural and Moral History of the Indies (first published 1590) - read the 'Address to the Reader,' the 'Analytical Table of Contents' (all of it!), and one chapter of your choice from one of the first four 'books'.

Further readings - general

Arnold, David, The Age of Discovery, 1400-1600, Lancaster Pamphlets, 2nd ed (London: Routledge, 2002) - Warwick ebook

Bleichmar, Daniela, ed., Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800 (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2009) - Warwick ebook

Grafton, Anthony, April Shelford, and Nancy G. Siraisi, New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992)

Hooykaas, Reijer, ‘The Portuguese Discoveries and the Rise of Modern Science’, in Selected Studies in History of Science (UC Biblioteca Geral 1, 1983 [first published 1966]) - viewable on Google Books

Hooykaas, R., ‘The Rise of Modern Science: When and Why?’, The British Journal for the History of Science, 20 (1987), 453–73

Ryan, Michael T., ‘Assimilating New Worlds in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 23 (1981), 519–38

Wootton, 'The Invention of Discovery', in The Invention of Science - course extracts

Further readings - specific

Ash, Eric H., Power, Knowledge, and Expertise in Elizabethan England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), chapters 3 (Early Mathematical Navigation in England) and 4 (Secants, Sailors, and Elizabethan Manuals of Navigation)

Barrera-Osorio, Antonio, 'Books of Nature: Scholars, Natural History, and the New World', in his Experiencing Nature: the Spanish American Empire and the Early Scientific Revolution (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press) - course extracts

Cohen, How Modern Science Came Into the World, 139-141

Ogilvie, The Science of Describing (Chicago UP, 2006), chapter 5, section 3 (Evaluating Travelers' Tales)

Pumfrey, Stephen, Latitude and the Magnetic Earth: The True Story of Queen Elizabeth’s Most Distinguished Man of Science (Cambridge: Icon Books, 2003), chapter 5 (Imperial Explorers and the Rise of Magnetic Navigation)

Sanchez, Antonio, ‘Science by Regimento: Standardising Long-Distance Control and New Spaces of Knowledge in Early Modern Portuguese Cosmography’, Early Science and Medicine, 21 (2016), 133–55