Constructing the Medicinal Hummingbird in the Hernandian Corpus, 1571–1651

Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:20 PM
Grand Ballroom Salon A (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Iris Montero Sobrevilla , University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
This paper explores the mechanisms for the construction of natural historical and medical knowledge about New World animals in the writings of Dr. Francisco Hernández (1517-1587) and his commentators. Having been appointed chief medical officer of the Indies by king Philip II, Hernández travelled to Mexico to interview all the doctors, medicine men, herbalists and Indian informants with insights into the medicinal riches of the land. Combining his field records with the Renaissance medical tradition he had been trained in, Hernández wrote a “Natural History of New Spain”. Fragments of this work travelled in manuscript form and were published by different authors on both sides of the Atlantic before its most well-known publication in Rome in 1651. In all these works -by men like Nardo Antonio Recchi, Johannes Faber, Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, Juan de Barrios, Francisco Ximénez and Joannes de Laet-, there are interesting “literary and visual technologies” at work to endow Hernández of authority over his findings. Following the case of the hummingbird, this paper analyses how the Hernandian corpus utilised technologies such as the reporting of direct observation, the multiplication of witnesses, the notion of experiment, oral testimony, indexing and the manipulation of images to increase credibility and assert authority over one of the most wonderful creatures in the New World.