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European conquest and colonization on Amerindian systems of knowledge

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What are some of the philosophies that influenced Latin America? In what way did they impact the cultures of Latin America?
What contributions to society did folk and elite caudillos bring to Latin American society?
What impact did the encroachment of Europeans have upon the New World?

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Latin America
Marcos Cueto and Jorge Ca?izares Esguerra

As the first colonial outpost of the early-modern European world, Latin America has long witnessed complex processes of cultural cross-pollination, suppression, and adaptation. Beginning in the fifteenth century, millenarian Amerindian civilizations, heirs to rich local "scientific" traditions, seemingly gave way to European institutions of learning and to new dominant forms of representing the natural world. What happened to the earlier modes of learning? How do subordinate cultures resist and adapt to new forms of knowledge? Latin America has long been a laboratory where the "West" has sought to domesticate and civilize "non-Western" forms of Amerindian and African knowledge.

Given Latin America's rich history of cultural adaptations, suppressions, and hybridizations, it cannot be labeled non-Western without serious qualifications. From the fifteenth century, Western modes and styles of apprehending the natural world have influenced all learned elite institutions in the region. Latin America has witnessed different periods of Western scientific dominance; Iberian, French, British, German and USA scientific traditions and institutions have left indelible marks.

Many scholars have attempted to account for the diffusion of Western scientific knowledge in Latin America and the Third World. Negative interpretations have overemphasized Latin America's passivity and patterns of cultural and economic dependency to explain the region's stunted scientific development. They have also used the history of science in Latin America as a foil for the technological and scientific successes of the West--identifying conditions that have purportedly made scientific and technological successes possible in other parts of the world (e.g., the Reformation and vigorous industrial development).

But a more positive point of view can yield strikingly different historical narratives. Latin Americans have been able to create rich and complex national scientific traditions in conditions of adversity that include shortages of funds for salaries and equipment, small libraries, inadequate supplies, and political instability disrupting the continuity of scientific work. Overcoming these difficulties, Latin Americans have contributed significantly to the world's store of knowledge. Tropical medicine and physiology at the turn of the twentieth century illustrate this: Carlos Chagas, a microbiologist in Rio de Janeiro, discovered the parasite trypanosome responsible for a disease affecting Brazilian peasants that now bears his name. The Cuban Carlos Finlay identified the vector of yellow fever. The Peruvian Carlos Monge studied the effects of high-altitude in human beings and animals. The Argentine physiologist Bernardo Houssay related hypophysis with diabetes mellitus and received a Nobel Prize in 1947. Though "pure" science has not attracted large numbers of devotees and patrons in the region, rich traditions have emerged in "applied" fields of natural history and medicine (including public health and technology).

This chapter's positive approach to the history of science in Latin America examines the institutional and social contexts in which scientific ideas and practices have evolved. Given the rich colonial and post-colonial history of the area, this chapter also explores the history of transference, adaptation, and hybridization of knowledge. It delves into a multiplicity of topics, including the scientific and technical legacies of Amerindian civilizations; the dynamic and traumatic cultural encounter of conflicting representations of nature; and the arrival and creative assimilation of Western knowledge and institutions in colonial (1492-1820s) and post-colonial (1820s-1990s) societies.

A survey of the history of science and technology in Latin America should first come to grips with the remarkable contributions to arithmetic, botany, astronomy, and metallurgy of the ancient Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations. Unfortunately, the scientific and technical accomplishments of these civilizations, as well as their continuity, adaptation, and mutation in the wake of European colonization, are incompletely understood and require further investigation.

The history of science in colonial Latin America also deserves greater study. A secular-liberal reading of the colonial past widely accepted during the early nineteenth-century still influences many scholars. According to this view, even though Spain instituted vigorous colonial cultural policies that included the early creation of universities (which opened some one hundred years earlier than North America's Harvard), Spain's commitment to religious intolerance (Inquisition) and to an old-fashioned scholastic mentality stifled scientific institutions and methods. But it is becoming increasingly clear that Western scientific ideas, institutions, and activities significantly affected the Iberian colonies. Initially they legitimized European colonialist practices. Later they became central to imperial policies of economic renewal. By the end of the colonial period, they would play a major role in creating discourses of national identity among the local elites.

As the new nation-states began slowly to consolidate, scientific institutions and practices recovered their prominence. Many European scientists (particularly naturalists) arrived in Latin America in the second half of the nineteenth century, and along with local scientific communities, helped to map and catalog national resources. They also created the technical and financial conditions for extending the reach of the state through developments of railroads, telegraphs, mining, export agriculture, and public health. In the twentieth century, scientific discourses and their accompanying ideological and socio-economic practices have continued to evolve through periods of profound social, political, and economic change.

Students need to be aware that this introduction to the region's rich history of science is considerably limited by the available resources in English secondary literature we review. A large corpus of knowledge in Spanish, Portuguese, and French beckons those with the linguistic skills to exploit them.

Important themes highlighted in the following are:

Scholarship on the history of science and medicine of an important region of the "Third World"

Contemporary debates on the implications of scientific and technical change from the perspective of the so-called periphery

The complex and often conflicting relationship between the scientific and professional elites of "underdeveloped" countries and those of North America and Europe

The independent and interacting influence of national and international factors on the development of science in Latin America

Indigenous reactions to scientific programs and ideas of progress

For a one-volume history of Latin America, see:

Benjamin Keen, A History of Latin America, 5th ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996).

No single volume covers the entire history of science in Latin America. However, the following items provide coverage of specific historical periods:

Thomas P. Glick, "History of Science in Latin America," The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Latin America and the Caribbean, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 451-457.
Jorge Ca?izares-Esguerra, Nature, Empire, and Nation: Explorations of the History of Science in the Iberian World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).
Marcos Cueto, (ed.), Missionaries of Science: The Rockefeller Foundation and Latin America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).

The two most significant journals published in Latin America are:

Historia, Ciencias, Sa?de-Manguinhos
Address: Casa Oswaldo Cruz, Pr?dio do Rel?gio, Av. Brasil, 4365, Rio de Janeiro, RJ Brasil 21040-360. Telf. (021) 280-9241, Fax (021) 598-4437.
Quipu, Revista Latinoamericana de Historia de las Ciencias y la Tecnolog?a
Address: Apartado postal 21-873, 04000 Mexico D.F., Mexico.

Day 1: Non-Western Sciences
The literature on the history of science of native-American societies is scarce, in contrast with the rich scholarship available on non-Western scientific ...

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