Secret Science: Spanish Cosmography and the New World

Secret Science: Spanish Cosmography and the New World

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by María M. Portuondo
     
 

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The discovery of the New World raised many questions for early modern scientists: What did these lands contain? Where did they lie in relation to Europe? Who lived there, and what were their inhabitants like? Imperial expansion necessitated changes in the way scientific knowledge was gathered, and Spanish cosmographers in particular were charged with turning their

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Overview

The discovery of the New World raised many questions for early modern scientists: What did these lands contain? Where did they lie in relation to Europe? Who lived there, and what were their inhabitants like? Imperial expansion necessitated changes in the way scientific knowledge was gathered, and Spanish cosmographers in particular were charged with turning their observations of the New World into a body of knowledge that could be used for governing the largest empire the world had ever known.

As María M. Portuondo here shows, this cosmographic knowledge had considerable strategic, defensive, and monetary value that royal scientists were charged with safeguarding from foreign and internal enemies. Cosmography was thus a secret science, but despite the limited dissemination of this body of knowledge, royal cosmographers applied alternative epistemologies and new methodologies that changed the discipline, and, in the process, how Europeans understood the natural world.

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Editorial Reviews

Richard L. Kagan

“A work of meticulous scholarship, Secret Science is must reading for anyone interested in the history of early modern science, the history of cosmography, and the intellectual challenges posed by the discovery of the New World. Of key importance is Portuondo’s understanding of science as an administrative practice that privileged the collection of empirical data as opposed to philosophical speculation into the secrets of nature. The book also questions traditional assumptions concerning Spain’s supposed lack of participation in the early modern revolution in science, and in doing so, forces us to rethink what this revolution was about.”

William Eamon

“This impressive and original book finally brings Spain—long neglected by historians of science—into the picture of the Scientific Revolution.  Secret Science takes us on a fascinating voyage through the scientific institutions that King Philip II created in order to build a body of confidential scientific information about his vast empire. María Portuondo creates a vivid portrait of the Spanish royal cosmographers at work, as they devised instruments, drew maps, and described in meticulous detail the physical features of the empire. Besides detailing the achievements of the cosmographers, Portuondo demonstrates that Philip II, far from being a hidebound reactionary, as the Black Legend portrays him, was a pragmatic, modernizing prince who used science and technology to build the first empire in world history over which the sun never set, and in the process created a vast inventory of real, tangible knowledge about the New World. This is cultural history of science at its best:  learned, original, and compelling. Vivid, engrossing, and full of fascinating details, the book will completely change the way we think about the origins of science. It’s a must read for historians of science and cultural historians alike.”

Nature - Neil Safier

"Impeccably researched. . . . Portuondo’s study reveals valuable evidence with which scholars can refashion their images of the Renaissance world and the achievements of Spanish science at the dawn of modernity."
Journal for the History of Astronomy - Adam Mosley

“This is an important book about an extremely important subject. . . . [Portuondo’s] elegant prose and meticulous apparatus deftly guide the reader through the wealth of archival, printed and secondary sources that underpin her careful analysis.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226675374
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
08/01/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
360
File size:
4 MB

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