Ruptures and Continuities in Space and Time: Historical Studies of Science in Latin America

AHA Session 116
Conference on Latin American History 17
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Petit Trianon (New York Hilton, Third Floor)
Rick A. Lopez, Amherst College
Jordana Dym, Skidmore College

Session Abstract

History of science in Latin America has undergone major shifts in the last few decades. The work of such scholars as Londa Schiebinger, Timothy Mitchell, James Scott, Nancy Stepan, and Richard Drayton made historians more attuned to the entanglements between science and the configuration of political power within empires and states. Meantime, scholars such as Juan Josť Saldaña, Xavier Lozoya, and Patricia Aceves have demonstrated that far from passively importing European ideas, Latin American scientists made their own contributions to modern science. Most recently, fruitful directions for cross-disciplinary analysis that draws upon visual production such as botanical illustration, cartography, and art have been charted by the likes of Nancy Leys Stepan, Elizabeth Boone, and Daniela Bleichmar.

No one on the panel was trained as a historian of science, yet we each have found our work gravitating toward historical analysis of science in one way or another. By bringing the history of science into dialogue with historical geography, cultural history, and visual studies, panelists will discuss the ruptures and continuities in scientific thinking within Latin America, globally, and across time periods. Rick López analyzes the strategies for visual depictions of nature in botanical illustrations in New Spain during the Francisco Hernández expedition of the late 16th and the Sessť and Mociño expedition of the late 18th century to trace how draftsmen and botanists constructed notions of ethnic and territorial indigeneity as part of their engagement with universal science. The two expeditions laid the foundation for the later emergence of what he terms a Mexican nationalist environmental imagination. Ernesto Capello examines the eighteenth-century Franco-Hispanic Geodesic Mission to Quito consider the ways scientific visual production contributed to the construction of enduring tropes about the Ecuadorian landscape. Shelley Garrigan studies the collection and publication of statistics in 19th century Mexico as part of what she terms of “struggle over authority.” Taken together, the papers reveal how scholars are crossing disciplinary boundaries to address questions beyond the sort usually asked by historians of science. The panel will benefit from feedback and a discussion lead by Jordana Dym, whose work in historical cartographer makes her well-placed to comment upon cross-disciplinary peregrinations.

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