The political and social upheaval that overtook the Spanish colonies in the early nineteenth century coincided with the maturation of a movement of renovation and growth in the natural sciences that had been building for a generation or more. The change was manifested in the attempt to revise scientific curricula, replacing scholastic subjects with those more consonant with modern scientific thought, with Newtonian physics at the core. Heightened emphasis upon instruction in the sciences plus the government’s encouragement of taxonomic and descriptive research related to the exploitation of the colonies’ vast resources legitimized the scientific enterprise among creole intellectuals, who embraced the quest for natural knowledge energetically. The increased interest in science led to the formation of nuclei of scientific activity, the most significant of which emerged in the areas where the Spanish government had invested most heavily—the centers of the three great Botanical Expeditions—Bogotá, Lima, and Mexico City.

The turn of the century saw the formation of national networks of scientific communication and the lessening of dependence on European centers well under way. In George Basalla’s model, these centers occupied an intermediate stage between colonial, dependent science and fully independent national scientific schools.1 The movement toward scientific independence further coincided with and was partly subsumed in the striving for political independence, a fact generally appreciated by naturalists of the time. That the former movement was, paradoxically, aborted by the success of the latter should not obscure the dynamics of scientific growth in Latin America at the end of the ancien régime.

This study explores the intellectual, social, and political milieus of science in New Granada, where scientific activity was most pronounced in the period when revolutionary ideology had its impact on men of science, with a comparative glance at Peru and New Spain.2 Although certain elements in the interplay between science and politics can be noted in other parts of Spanish America (Chile, Argentina), a cohesive, articulated relationship can be described only in those areas where substantial institutionalization of science had occurred. Indeed, the notable association of scientific groups with the revolutionary cause in these three centers seems to have been partly a function of the relatively high degree of institutionalization of scientific networks there.

The Overthrow of Scholastic Science

Traditionally, science in the colonies had been taught in universities and secondary schools (colegios mayores), all of which were under ecclesiastical control to a greater or lesser degree and thus tended to perpetuate scholastic curricula. Even though modern scientific ideas slowly percolated through orthodox channels, this situation remained relatively static well into the enlightened reign of Charles III (1759-88). Even when the crown attempted through its viceroys to induce change in higher education, its best efforts continued to be thwarted by the monopoly of tenured chairs by scholastic professors opposed to educational reform. In the established universities of Mexico and Lima, reform in scientific education came first through the creation of independent research or teaching entities outside the university structure. The men trained in these institutions came eventually to dominate the university when chairs opened up. In New Granada, the colegios were more susceptible to change in the face of pressure from the viceroys and the creole elite. The reaction against the Jesuits was an added spur, for after their expulsion in 1767 the crown created new chairs of natural science in the belief that scientific-education on the secondary level had been controlled for the worse by the banished order.3

The intellectual benchmarks were everywhere the same: Linnean taxonomy in botany; Boerhaave in medical theory; Sydenham in clinical practice; Copernicus, Newton, and Franklin in the physical sciences. For Spanish America’s scientific reformers modern science was basically Newtonian, and the first step had to be the introduction of Newtonian physics into the teaching of natural philosophy. In New Granada, José Celestino Mutis (a botanist who held a chair of mathematics) insisted on the necessity of renovating instruction in the physical sciences. In a series of recent studies, Luis Carlos Arboleda has analyzed Mutis’s role in the reception of Newtonian science. Mutis’s mathematical knowledge was largely classical; he taught mainly Euclidean geometry, with only slight attention to infinitesimal calculus. At the theoretical level he was more a rhetorical than a profound Newtonian. However, because of his vast knowledge of the didactic writings of Newtonian experimentalists like Musschenbroek and Nollet, “with Mutis, experimental physics arrived in a block on the colonial periphery. ”4 In 1774, in the Colegio Mayor del Rosario, Mutis defended the heliocentric theory, inviting the wrath of the Dominican canons of the Thomist university in Bogotá. Mutis at first prevailed and the educational reform plan of Francisco Moreno y Escandón, introduced in the same year, called specifically for the introduction of Newtonian physics in the second year of study. The Dominicans brought off a successful counterattack, as a result of which the Moreno curricular reform was cancelled and the chair of mathematics abolished.5 Still, Newtonian physics was taught at the Colegio del Rosario from 1777 on, when a disciple of Mutis, Juan Eloy Valenzuela, won the chair of philosophy and adopted Musschenbroek’s physics as a textbook. In the later 1780s, at a time when his promotion of “patriotic science” had already been assimilated into the political ideology of a younger generation of New Granadan intellectuals, Mutis completed a Spanish translation of Newton’s Principia,6 In 1801 he reaffirmed in a letter to the viceroy his conviction that Newtonian physics, itself a confirmation of the Copernican system, had to be taught openly, without disclaimers to the effect that various of its components were judged contrary to Scripture.7

In Peru Cosme Bueno had taught Newtonian physics in his chair of mathematics in the University of San Marcos from 1758, but the major spur to renovation came with the founding of the Real Convictorio de San Carlos, erected in 1774 to replace the Jesuit colleges. Some two decades later the role of the Convictorio in disseminating Newtonian physics was described in the Mercurio Peruano as a “happy revolution” in philosophy. The writer noted that the college had been planned to popularize the new science and that, as a result, “Newton began to be heard with admiration and applause in literary functions, not only within the School but outside it. The Convictorio … thought to give to its studies the ultimate compliment: it adopted the Newtonian system.” At the medical college of San Fernando, founded in 1808 by many who had been trained in the Convictorio, the plan of studies had a Newtonian foundation.8

The situation in Mexico was similar, although the acceptance of Newtonian physics there was retarded. In 1772 José Ignacio Bartolache complained of the persistence of scholastic philosophy at the university when Newtonian physics had been universally accepted elsewhere. The normalization of Newtonianism had to await the first decades of the nineteenth century when reformers such as Luis José Montaña finally gained chairs.9

That the introduction of modern science into academic curricula placed its proponents in a revolutionary position within the academic community was well recognized by reformers and traditionalists alike. There were other divisions within the academic community: those of age and nationality, for example. These three cleavages tended to the coterminous. In the last two or three decades of the eighteenth century those who held chairs, particularly university chairs, tended to be scholastic by training and Spanish by birth; those who sought to gain chairs and reform science tended to be creoles. Creoles and Spaniards (usually called “Europeans”) tended, moreover, to have different views of what kind of scientific pursuits were important, their differing attitudes having been shaped by social considerations.

Towards an American Science

Once scholastic science was overthrown it seemed clear to many that it must be replaced by a science that was not only modern but distinctively American. In a preface to Alexander von Humboldt’s report on statistics of Mexico, which he reprinted in his Semanario del Nuevo Reino de Granada in 1810, Francisco José de Caldas explained that his aim was “to propose an American model” for the study and development of his own country. Mario Argueta correctly asserts that Caldas intended to promote a programmatic model for scientific research in New Granada, one that was self-consciously American and that explicitly sought to divorce itself from European science.10

This concern was generalized among creole naturalists. Because of the polemic over the nature of the American environment, creole scientists involved in taxonomic or descriptive fields worked within an ideological framework that was anti-European by definition and therefore became easily identified with anti-European political ideology. At the root of the polemic were a number of propositions developed by European thinkers, the most notable of whom were Cornelius de Pauw and the Comte de Buffon, to the effect that, because of the negative characteristics of the American environment (e.g., its coolness and humidity), the New World was biotically impoverished and inferior compared to the Old.

Buffon claimed that animals common to both hemispheres were more robust in the Old World; that indigenous New World animals were smaller than those of the Old; that European domestic animals had degenerated when imported into the New World; and that few animal families were distinctive to the New World. The Peruvian physician José Hipólito Unánue refuted these propositions in detail, citing Thomas Jefferson’s rebuttal in Notes on the State of Virginia before proceeding with his own argument. Unánue noted that sheep introduced from Europe had multiplied prodigiously in the Andes, as had horses, cows, and burros in the Peruvian lowlands. Nor was it true, as was commonly held in European literature, that America had more noxious insects (spawned by a deleterious climate) than had Europe: in Paris alone, Unánue remarked, there were seventy-seven species of bedbugs! Unánue continued by confronting and rejecting the extension of the degeneration-of-species argument: that European colonists were as adversely affected by the supposedly inhospitable climate as were the indigenous peoples.11 This kind of notion not only served to legitimize the control of the colonies by a European elite but directly affected the self-image of creole men of science.

Latin American naturalists typically refuted the de Pauw/Buffon view at its root: the supposed inferiority of the New World’s climate. Both Unánue’s Observaciones sobre el clima de Lima and Caldas’s essay “Del influjo del clima sobre los seres organizados” were vindications of the New World climate, designed to show not only that it was more salubrious than Europeans had supposed but also that it enjoyed a wide range of variation whose description justified further scientific observation and research. Both Caldas, who was a climatic determinist and believed that regional variations in culture were completely explicable in terms of climatic variation, and Unánue, who assigned to climate a lesser role in determining human affairs and was primarily interested in ascertaining the relationship between climate and disease, were anxious to demonstrate the geographical normality, if not superiority, of their own countries and to show that those who lived there were capable of enlightened thought. Their views were supported by Humboldt, who wrote to Antonio José Cavanilles in 1803 that “many Europeans have exaggerated the influence of these climes on the mind and have asserted that it is impossible to support intellectual work here.” But Humboldt stated that the opposite was true: on the basis of his own experience, he could say that the American climate made one vigorous. In a less subjective vein, Unánue was pleased to note Humboldt’s observation that the atmosphere of Lima had as much oxygen (“vital air”) as that of Europe.12

The vindication of the American climate became a dominant theme in Peruvian medical thought around the time of independence. José Manuel Dávalos, a collaborator of Unánue, based an apology of Peruvian science on the assertion of the salubrity of Lima’s climate. John Woodham suggests that slavish adherence by creole physicians to Unánue’s climatic theories on the genesis of disease had a deleterious effect on the practice of medicine in Peru, as evidenced by the general refusal of physicians to prescribe tartar emetic in the influenza epidemic of 1818 because they believed that Lima’s climate altered the nature of the disease and thus required a different specific. Nevertheless, the notion that the action of materia medica changes with the climate was general in the literature and cannot be ascribed to Unánue alone.13 It underlay the call for the elaboration of a distinctively American materia medica.

A major rationale for the Botanical Expedition to New Spain was to bring up to date the botanical work of Francisco Hernández, who had studied Aztec materia medica in the sixteenth century. In the name of vindicating Aztec botany through the resuscitation of Hernández, creole botanists in Mexico mounted an attack on the alleged rigidity of their Spanish colleagues in embracing the Linnean system. The leading spokesman for this point of view, Juan Antonio Alzate, asserted the need to be empirical and undogmatic with regard to taxonomy. The Spaniards held that Linnean classification alone revealed the virtues of plants and found unnecessary taxonomies “used by the ancient Mexicans, whose language may have been adequate for the square and marketplace, for Indian herb and vegetable hawkers, but not for literary academies. Alzate defended the probity of the ancient Mexicans as cultivators of science and declared that this corpus of knowledge must be recuperated through the work of Hernández, whose descriptions were not inferior to those of Dioscorides and were more original. Hernández’s diligence in determining Mexican names and ascertaining the properties of the plants was incomparable. These were described in the “basic words of the primitive and purest language of that nation” because Hernández had gathered his information “with the greatest wisdom and fidelity from the mouths of Indian physicians.”14 The notion that Indian plant nomenclature was more accurate (in that it gave a better description of medicinal properties) also turns up in the work of Caldas, who compared Quechua to literary Italian (“Tuscan”) and remarked that the Peruvian Indians were “always exact and careful in giving things names derived from their properties, virtues, form, habitat, etc. [and] named herbs according to their virtues and their uses in medicine, arts, and society.”15

In Mexico, study of Aztec botany had become institutionalized by the end of the eighteenth century: examinations in botany at the university required knowledge both of Linnean taxonomy and of the name and etymology of the plant “in the Mexican language. Soon after the turn of the century the validity of Aztec materia medica provided the focus for a socially tinged debate between creole and Spanish botanists. The leading creole botanist, J. M. Mociño (the ranking creole of the Botanical Expedition to New Spain), proposed the creation of a Mexican pharmacology so that Mexico might glory in having its own materia medica.” He was promptly attacked by a Spanish colleague, José Longinos Martínez, who was jealous of Mociño’s preferment. Defending Mociño was another creole naturalist, J. L. Montaña, who attacked the artificiality of the Linnean system and called for an empirical, flexible approach to plant taxonomy, a program (it turned out) for his future collaboration with Mociño in the study of the therapeutic action of Mexican plants.16

Science in the New World: Isolation and Ambivalence

The above examples should suffice to show that the distinction between American and European science was very much in the minds of creole men of science, particularly their most articulate spokesmen—Unánue, Caldas, and Alzate, doyens of science in their respective centers. The kind of ambivalence, coupled with apposite resentment, that creole naturalists felt about their scientific dependence explains in large part the ease with which the scientific sector of the creole elite embraced the cause of emancipation and associated it with its scientific aims.

First some generalizations: I assume that the recognition of dependence carries with it some feeling of hostility, or at the very least of ambivalence, toward the metropolis, although creole science had by this time partially transferred its dependence from Spain to Northwestern Europe, particularly France and England. Indeed, Stanley and Barbara Stein’s notion that colonial Latin America was economically dependent on other European countries and that Portugal and Spain plaved only an intermediate role makes an attractive model for the development of Latin American science in the late colonial period.17 Yet, if scientific dependence was dispersed among the nations of Western Europe, resentment was directed chiefly against Spain, largely because the main barrier to scientific advance was perceived to be the institutional structure put in place by the Spanish government—Inquisition, religious control of education, impediments to the free flow of scientific information, lack of adequate crown support for scientific research, and so forth.

Second, isolation is a relative condition; because creole scientists stressed isolation, it is always an accurate view of a psychological state, but not necessarily of a real situation.18 They were in touch with European centers, although communication was difficult; they had access to books, but not always easy access.19 But if isolation is to some degree illusory, its perception is real and contributes to the way in which scientists view their social role. They are likely to be attracted to any program that promises an end to the conditions that, in their view, have impeded their scientific work.

It is understandable, if paradoxical, that the best scientists felt their isolation most keenly. Caldas’s 1801 letter to Mutis describing his scientific isolation touches all the bases of the syndrome; he describes himself as “ignorant, unknown even to my countrymen, enduring an obscure and, at times, wretched life in a corner of America, without books, without instruments, without means of learning, and without being able to serve my country in any way.”20 But, of course, he did have access to books before he met Mutis (who, according to Humboldt, had the best botanical library he had seen, next to that of Joseph Banks in London); he had used the library of José Félix de Restrepo, his master in Popayán, and possibly also that of Antonio Nariño.21 However, access to European books made him feel more, not less, isolated. He remarks of astronomy texts by Lalande and Besaut (probably in Restrepo’s collection): “These two books, at the same time as they instructed me, convinced me that it was impossible to be an astronomer in America. 22 Forced by circumstances to become a self-taught scientist, he was also constrained to build his own instruments. Later, as director of the Royal Observatory of Santafé de Bogotá, he was to prove—in spite of all—that it was possible to be an astronomer in America. But in his earlier days he had decried his native province as “soil inimical to the sciences.”23

The full complexity of Caldas’s psychology as a scientist is brought into relief by his emotionally charged relationship with Humboldt, who arrived in New Granada in 1801. Humboldt’s role as catalyst and exciter of the entire Latin American scientific community is probably unique in the history of science. But his most significant impact was social, and in both New Granada and New Spain his influence can be summarized as follows:

  1. He supported the creole scientists’ self-image as being on an intellectual par with European scientists. In so doing, he lent powerful legitimation to the scientific enterprise in the New World.

  2. By making scientists aware of each other’s work and of its value, he strengthened national nuclei of scientists and opened avenues of communication among them.

  3. He sided with creoles against Europeans in the “dispute of the New World,” supplying arguments that refuted the supposed inferiority of the environment.

  4. He raised the political consciousness of creole scientists and encouraged them to speak out against social injustice, a stance that followed from the conscientious pursuit of natural knowledge.

  5. He lessened the creole scientists’ sense of isolation; helped them to establish contacts with Europe and to lessen their distrust of European scientists; and promoted further scientific activity in America by Europeans after emancipation, thus providing some continuity in science in the face of massive disruption.24

Once on a field trip Caldas broke his thermometer and, ever resourceful in the face of logistic adversity, made while attempting to repair the instrument the serendipitous discovery that the temperature of boiling water was proportional to atmospheric pressure and therefore altitude could be measured with a thermometer by applying a formula he subsequently derived. Excited by his findings, Caldas was nevertheless beset with self-doubt: “Might this be a true discovery?” he asked himself. “Could I have divined in the obscure recesses of Popayán a method already discovered and perfected by some European scholar? Or, on the contrary, could I have been the first to whom these ideas had occurred?” It seemed unlikely to Caldas that Réamur, Delisle, Fahrenheit, or others of like caliber should not have made the same observation: “How sad is the American’s lot,” he despaired. “After so much work, if one finds something new, the most one can say is: It is not in my books.”25 Caldas resigned himself to the likely role of confirming someone else’s discovery.

It was in this mood that Humboldt encountered him and, to the American’s delight, was able to confirm that, although others had noted the relationship between atmospheric pressure and temperature, Caldas was the first to state the relationship mathematically.26 Of course, the discussion between the two naturalists covered more than a single topic. Caldas was explicit in his assessment of Humboldt’s impact upon him: “Astronomy and geography had been my delights, and I acquired some knowledge of these fields. I did not believe that I was working with so much precision until the arrival of the baron. I confronted my observations, I manifested my poor and wretched instruments, and they were pleasing to this traveler.”27

Indeed, Humboldt everywhere put creole scientists to the ultimate test of confronting their own observations, simultaneously providing the criticism, stimulation, and reinforcement necessary to confirm to Americans the validity of their place in the international scientific community. Always perceptive, Caldas realized that science could not progress in the New World without an accelerated communication with cultivated Europe.”28 Still, the realization of the necessary dependence of American upon European science could arouse his resentment. After the revolution of 1810 he called for a scientific declaration of independence from Europe: Need we wait for the European to come to measure and discover our countries? … If we have thrown off the political yoke of Europe, let us also throw off this scientific dependence which degrades us and keeps us in an intellectual infancy more ignominious than slavery itself!”29 In the revolutionary period, one of the keynotes of Caldas’s ideology was that scientists of the independent republics had to found independent scientific institutions, which was the only way to ward off what he referred to, with fine irony, as the “second discovery” of America by Europe.30

In elaborating an ideology for an American science independent of Europe, Caldas was simply extending arguments developed earlier by his teacher, Restrepo, and his patron, Mutis. Before the revolution Restrepo had told his students that we Spaniards would be more powerful today if we had been astronomers,” an allusion both to the low status of natural science in Spanish society and to his own conception of the natural philosophy curriculum as he taught it—astronomy, navigation, and physics together with logic and more traditionally defined philosophical topics. After the revolution he could state with certainty that the Spanish regime had constituted “an impenetrable barrier to the sciences” through which only one man, Caldas, had succeeded in breaking, “through the sole force of his genius. 31 In colonial times, Restrepo explained, “The laws of motion, of sound, of light, were entirely unknown to our youth. To speak of the Copernican system, to defend the movement of the earth, was held as an impiety worthy of the anathemas of the church.” Thanks to freedom of speech, guaranteed by their constitution, Colombians no longer needed the approval of ignorant censors, he concluded.32

The obvious foreshortening of Restrepo’s view of the recent history of science in his country is significant. The most important change—the general reception of Copernican cosmography and Newtonian physics—had antedated the revolution. But in postrevolutionary perspective it seemed natural to locate the acceptance of hard-fought-for ideas with the moment of political, as well as scientific, freedom, and at the same time to magnify the antiscientific elements of the overthrown social and political structure.

Restrepo and Mutis shared the view that the scientific maturity of America was inevitable. This view Restrepo based on the influential writings of Juan Andrés, a liberal Spanish Jesuit exiled in Italy. Andrés had stressed the continuous march of world civilization from east to west. The result of this inevitable trend, Restrepo reasoned, was that the center of gravity of world culture would eventually arrive in the New World, whose citizens accordingly did not have to pin their hopes of intellectual salvation on the largesse of Europeans. Mutis believed the moment had already arrived and that “European muses could better their fortunes in America.”33 The proof of this contention Mutis saw in the intellectual development of his own disciples. When a new chair of chemistry was being planned around the turn of the century, Mutis informed the viceroy that importing chemistry professors from Europe was not necessary when well-prepared local candidates existed—notably, Jorge Tadeo Lozano, trained in Madrid, who eventually won the chair.34 Mutis’s political convictions, which weighed so heavily on the proindependence stance of his disciples, were in part the result of his resentment of the centralized surveillance that the crown and the Madrid Botanical Garden consistently attempted to impose upon him throughout his career.35 Despite his own peninsular origins, Mutis exhibited considerable social distance from the metropolis, comparable to that experienced by creoles like Caldas.

The Peruvians, less radical, more realistic, and perhaps less confident of the scientific future of the New World, retained an explicit European reference point. Thus, José Pezet in 1819 expressed the hope that someday Peruvian medicine might be able to offer Europe some worthy research in recompense for European medical knowledge. In Pezet’s view, all Peru had to offer thus far as a kind of Specimen Academicum was Unánue’s Clima de Lima. A decade later when the medical curriculum was under revision, Unánue opposed certain changes for fear of derogatory European reactions.36 In the same period in Colombia, Restrepo quite clearly did not care what Europeans thought. In spite of his own role in the diffusion of Newtonian physics, he cautioned against the blind acceptance of any natural philosophy, that of Newton included. As Luis Pérez Botero remarks, Restrepo was not promoting or opposing any particular philosophical school; he was simply tired of hearing European muses.37

The Formation of National Scientific Nuclei

One can speak of a relationship between science and revolution in a meaningful way only if it can be demonstrated that scientists participated in revolutionary movements as members of organized entities, self-conscious of their mutual relationships and concerned about the possible repercussions of the political movement within the scientific community. Such organization might be either formal (such as participation or membership in a scientific institution) or informal (such as the bonds arising among a university or secondary school cohort).

In 1787 Mutis wrote the viceroy of New Granada to propose a new plan for mathematics instruction at the Colegio del Rosario. In his proposal Mutis stressed not only the pedagogical value of upgrading emphasis on mathematics but an explicit social value as well. Mathematics was the cornerstone of an enlightened education, and “it is the young mathematicians who will someday be the ornament of the Republic and of their times; they are the hope of true patriots.”38 Mutis was prescient indeed; a substantial portion of the leadership of the Congress of 1811 and of those próceres executed in 1816 had assimilated Mutis’s notions of “patriotic science” and constructed a political ideology around it.39

In New Granada and Peru the scientific nuclei were inspired by one dominant figure (Mutis and Unánue, respectively) through his teaching and his ability to mobilize support for scientific research, both from the creole elite and from the viceroys. In New Granada, Mutis’s chair of mathematics in the Colegio del Rosario in Bogotá was the initial locus of scientific innovation. When his student Restrepo gained the chair of philosophy at Popayán, he and his students (including future Botanical Expedition members Caldas, Francisco Antonio Zea, and Miguel de Pombo) formed a group that was in fact a satellite of Mutis’s circle in Bogotá. Mutis was able to ground his circle of disciples institutionally in the Botanical Expedition, established in 1783. The expedition itself spawned a subsidiary institution, the Royal Astronomical Observatory, which became a focus of scientific and political activity under the aegis of its director, Caldas. With the exception of Mutis, the Botanical Expedition was staffed not by Spaniards, but by creole naturalists. In this, it differed from its counterparts in Peru and Mexico, which were staffed in great part by Spaniards. The New Granadan Botanical Expedition was thus an especially tight-knit group, all of whose members were trained either by Mutis or by his students. The same individuals met in informal groups, notably in salons (tertulias) where scientific and political topics were discussed.40 All these activities (as was also the case in Peru and Mexico) took place outside a university framework.

In Peru Unánue played a comparable role. With the Universidad de San Marcos dominated by scholastics, Unánue made repeated efforts to establish scientific institutions outside the university where modern science could be taught to creoles. In 1792 he started an Anatomical Amphitheater (despite its lofty title, just a room in the Hospital de San Andrés) to provide practical training in anatomy. In 1794 he began a series of clinical lectures designed to advance the careers of his associates. Finally in 1808 he and the viceroy Abascal founded a new medical school, the Colegio de San Fernando (renamed Colegio Independencia after the revolution) where, by 1815, most of the professors were former students of Unánue or colleagues of his in the amphitheater.41

In both New Granada and Peru the people that formed the nuclei of scientific activity were the strongest voices for the formation of economic or patriotic societies, which were notable promoters of enlightened learning in nonacademic settings throughout the Hispanic world. In Bogotá the prime mover behind the establishment of the Patriotic Society was Lozano, zoologist of the Botanical Expedition, and the first meeting was held at Mutis’s home on December 10, 1801. The Bogotá society, however, never became operational.42 In 1808, at the dawn of the active period of revolution, Caldas called for the reestablishment of the society to serve an ideologically conceived role: “A Society of Friends of New Granada, a company of enlightened men who love their country and mankind, who might rest their glory in bettering the luck of the downtrodden.”43 An Economic Society was founded in Lima but only existed formally for two years (1793_95) when Unánue was its secretary, and its only function was to publish Unánue’s periodical, the Mercurio Peruano. After independence, however, General San Martín founded a new Patriotic Society, whose charter membership included the vital core of Unánue’s group: Miguel Tafur, Félix Devotti, José Gregorio Paredes, and Unánue himself.44

No Patriotic Society was established in colonial Mexico City, but the loci of science there were also predominantly outside the scholastically inclined university, the most important centers being the Botanical Expedition and the Real Colegio de Minería, founded in 1792. The college produced a particularly cohesive group of creole scientists, although rather late in the day because the chairs were largely controlled by Spaniards.

The Mexican situation raises the issue of social conflict within the scientific community. In Mexico (as in Peru) cleavage between Spanish-born and creole scientists split the scientific community and gave the creoles ample reason to identify with the cause of American autonomy. The divisive effects of the conflict between Spanish and creole botanists were somewhat mitigated by the high placement of the creole Mociño in the hierarchy of the Botanical Expedition to New Spain. In the mining college on the other hand, this stratification was nearly absolute—the professors were Spaniards and the students, creole—and tensions were accordingly greater. Two incidents in 1809 illustrate the nature of the conflict. In February the governing board of the institution named a creole rector without consulting the prestigious Basque director, Fausto d’Elhuyar.45 Elhuyar stormed out of the session and secured a royal judgment against the new appointee. In September the governing board decided that henceforward they, and not the European director Elhuyar, would award academic prizes. Broader issues of power and patronage appear to have been behind these incidents: the “European” professors controlled the chairs and passed them on to their disciples. Characteristically, Humboldt took note of this situation and sowed seeds of dissent among a group of creole students who later distinguished themselves as revolutionaries.46

In Peru overt discrimination within the academic community against mulattos heightened the creole/European split. According to a royal decree of February 27, 1752, people of mixed blood (mestizos, zambos, and mulatos) were forbidden to matriculate in the University of San Marcos. This meant that pardos who wished to practice medicine had either to become surgeons or to study outside the university. José Pastor de Larrinaga, a mulatto surgeon, indicated in his Apología de los cirujanos del Perú (Lima, 1793) that Peruvian surgeons were in fact stigmatized as zambos by the Spanish community, an assertion borne out in a court case of the same period precipitated by the appointment of a mulatto to the post of chief surgeon at the hospital of Santa Ana. Spanish surgeons claimed that their Peruvian counterparts were de color oscuro y borroso and alluded to the servile conditions of their ancestors. Larrinaga was an exception among mulatto surgeons: he was pro-Spanish politically. Most pardos favored independence, including the surgeon José Santos Montero and two physicians of Unánue’s coterie, Dávalos and José Manuel Valdés. Indeed Unánue used his clinical lecture series as a platform to help mulatto colleagues advance their careers. Of the first seven lecturers, four (Dávalos, Valdés, J. M. Dávila, and José Puente) were mulattos.47

Both in Mexico and in Peru the scientific community thus reflected in a particularly intense form the general hostility between Spaniards and creoles. This dimension was lacking in New Granada, where the creoles had already come to power in the colegios by the early 1790s. With the exceptions of F. J. Matiz and Salvador Rizo, the scientific community was uniformly composed of men drawn from the upper stratum of creole society, “youth of the high nobility,” as the viceroy described the scientist conspirators of 1794.48

Science and Politics in the Revolutionary Movement

Men of science were conspicuous participants in the independence movements in all three areas of study. It is well to point out, however, that they participated not as scientists but rather as members of a broader class of creole intellectuals. The great symbolic meaning that later generations of Latin American scientists were to read into their participation must not lead us to exaggerate their roles. On the other hand, the interaction of political ideology and science has been a commonplace in all modern revolutionary movements, beginning with the English revolution of 1640, although the patterning of the relationship is difficult to evaluate. In the English revolution, radicals had an explicit scientific agenda, but most members of the Royal Society were royalists. In the American Revolution natural philosophers were overwhelmingly patriot, although physicians trained in Europe tended to be Tory. The French Revolution was notable in the profusion of scientific projects that it generated (e.g., the metric system); scientists were prominent actors in its first and last phases, but many—and the French Academy itself—ran afoul of the radical republicans.49

In the following summary of the role played by men of science in Latin American independence movements, it is well to keep in mind Richard Graham’s distinction between two discrete phases, in fact two distinct wars, of independence. The first phase followed immediately in the wake of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain and was characterized by control of local juntas by creole intellectuals.50 It was in this period that scientific leadership was most significant. The second phase, which followed Spanish repression and led to the crystallization of independent states, was in Colombia and Mexico less notable for the participation of scientists, because scientific ranks were decimated during the repression. In Peru, where the revolutionary impulse was retarded, the repression was not as severe, and therefore institutional continuity within the scientific community was greater.

The prominence of scientists in the independence movement, particularly in New Granada, was entirely natural, in view of both their social background and the reinforcement provided by their ambivalent feelings, as scientists, toward Europe. Beyond such generalities it is difficult to place scientists, either individually or as a group, in an ideological spectrum. The quasi-hagiographical literature describing the lives of the próceres makes hardly any attempt to differentiate among the leaders in terms of political thought.51 In such a context, the term “revolutionary” has to be defined in situational rather than ideological terms. Ultimately, one must rely on the judgment of the Spanish generals: we cannot deny the epithet “revolutionary” to those whom they executed. All who so died had ample dossiers of participation in the cause of independence.

New Granada

In Bogotá, men of science had been deeply implicated in the allegedly conspiratorial movement of 1794. This involved a circle of enlightened literati who held tertulias in various houses, notably those of the future general Antonio Nariño and a French physician, Luis de Rieux. Nariño (called “The Precursor”) was the earliest real leader of the Colombian independence movement, an amateur scientist and, like many creole intellectuals, a devotee of Benjamin Franklin both in politics and in science. Nariño’s large library contained the works of the major political writers of the French enlightenment as well as fifty-nine scientific titles, among them several works on electricity.52 An inventory of his possessions made at the time of their confiscation in the wake of the conspiracy also indicates that he owned an “electrical machine.”53 During his trial Nariño was asked about a plan he had drawn up for his study/laboratory (gabinete) that included a portrait of Franklin embellished with Turgot’s famous epigram: “He snatched the lightning from the skies and the scepter from the tyrant’s hand.” The second phrase was considered offensive to the king. Nariño replied that he meant to draw attention to the first part of the epigram alluding to “the electricity of the clouds, in which his interest was public, and that, in any case, he saw nothing subversive about the second part.54

In late 1793 Nariño had founded a printing press, La Patriótica, in Rieux’s house, where he printed a Spanish translation of the French Rights of Man. During the first months of 1794, Nariño was arrested for plotting to declare the “Constitution of Philadelphia” along with Rieux and other members of the tertulia, including José Joaquín Camacho, Sinforoso Mutis, Enrique Umaña, and Francisco Antonio Zea, students of the Rosario college, all in their twenties, who were later to become members of the Rotanical Expedition. Among the accusations against Rieux was that he read French gazettes and discussed their subversive comments in Nariño’s tertulia. Rieux replied that there was nothing suspicious about these meetings: if he read gazettes, it was simply to call attention to materias de física, concerning which Nariño had various books and instruments in his gabinete. Rieux’s statement doubtless contained much truth; these enlightened gatherings were scientific in tone, which explains the participation of the future naturalists. On the other hand, Nariño conceived his tertulia as a Franklinian junto and therefore a medium for social and political discussions as well.55

The depositions taken in the case clearly show that the young scientists were among the most outspoken members of the conspiracy. Umaña spoke of rising up and throwing out the Spaniards, while Sinforoso Mutis, nephew of José Celestino, was said to have been the first to raise the question of liberty and was quick to call for violence. Sinforoso endured torture and five months of imprisonment before being exiled to Spain with the rest of the conspirators. There, thanks to his uncle’s influence, the young naturalists Mutis, Zea, and J. M. Cabal were taken under the protective wing of Cavanilles, director of the Botanical Garden in Madrid. Eventually all were able to return to Bogotá, including Rieux, in spite of the viceroy’s efforts to keep him out. In 1800 the Council of the Indies even recommended abolishing the Botanical Expedition as a way of neutralizing Rieux, but the king refused to take action against either Rieux or the expedition. Indeed, the royal administration seems to have favored the rebellious scientists (Zea was named professor of botany and director of the Botanical Garden in Madrid); it was the colonial bureaucracy who deemed them dangerous.56

Against this background the participation of members of the Botanical Expedition in active revolt seems preordained. The coup of July 20, 1810, was planned the night before in a clandestine meeting held in the observatory, of which Caldas was director. On the twentieth, José María Carbonell, secretary of the expedition, was much in evidence, running from house to house to rouse the townspeople to revolt. Sinforoso Mutis became a police commissioner of the new regime and as such was charged with the arrest of the viceroy several days later. Caldas and Carbonell became editors of the Diario Político, official newspaper of the new regime. The zoologist Jorge Tadeo Lozano was named president of the Constituent Electoral Assembly of the “State of Cundinamarca” and, as a former officer in the Spanish army, set about organizing a regular army.57

Lozano was the major author of Cundinamarca’s constitution of April 5, 1811, and became the first president to serve under it. He hoped to see Cundinamarca (comprising the central core of New Granada) become the dominant member of a federal system. But soon the New Granadan patriots were enmeshed in a struggle between proponents of centralism, led by Nariño, and those who opted for a loose federation. Caldas on his part was a federalist by conviction, believing that the geographical (and hence cultural and economic) differentiation of the country into distinctive zones called for a federal kind of political organization. Carbonell, on the other hand, favored a centralist solution and supported Nariño, who took control of Cundinamarca on overthrowing Lozano in September 1811. At this juncture, Caldas was virtually drafted by Nariño to perform a variety of tasks of military engineering, causing Caldas to react bitterly and to express the wish that Nariño would leave him alone to fulfill his duties as Christian, husband, father, “and—what for me is most sublime—as cosmographer.” He participated in a rebellion against Nariño in 1812 and by 1813 was uttering imprecations against the puerile infighting that had turned the revolution into a civil war.58

In 1815 the government embarked on a campaign to promote science, and Caldas was invited to Bogotá from his refuge in Antioquia. In November of that year the secretary of state issued a decree empowering Caldas and Sinforoso Mutis to continue work on the atlas of New Granada. By this time, however, scientific activity had ground to a halt, as most of the staff of the Botanical Expedition had joined the revolutionary army.59

The anti-intellectual character of the repression instituted by the reconquering Spanish army in 1816 was marked. General Morillo supposedly asserted, “This is a revolution of doctors and, to pacify it, it is necessary that their heads roll.” Of the eleven leading members of the Botanical Expedition as of 1806 (see Table 1), six were executed in 1816, as were Cabal and several other naturalists. The Botanical Expedition was closed and its collections crated and dispatched to Spain. In a letter accompanying the scientific materials, Gen. Pascual Enrile detailed the crimes of Sinforoso Mutis, Lozano, and Caldas (who had “directed his knowledge against those to whom his enlightenment was owing”), reporting that the observatory had been destroyed when Bolvar’s army entered Bogotá and that in any case there were no astronomers left. Enrile recognized that “the insurgents had been much occupied with the geography of the country” and paid tribute to the “colossal plan” of the Botanical Expedition, stating that he had not been able to provide for the benefit of science since he was so occupied with military matters.60

In the wake of the repression that claimed so many scientists’ lives, it became a commonplace of Colombian historiography that the scientists had been killed because the Spaniards had singled out their intellectual activities as particularly subversive. Thus José María Salazar asserted that his friend Lozano’s papers had been burned in the repression “because war was made against the sciences, in the belief that they were responsible for the new order of things. ”61 Similarly, it was commonly believed throughout the nineteenth century that on Caldas’s petition for clemency Enrile had written: “Denied. Spain has enough scholars.” This latter story has been shown to be apocryphal,62 but its acceptance is a good indication of the state of mind of the surviving intellectuals. It seems clear, especially in the light of Enrile’s letter, that scientists were executed because they were members of the creole elite, many others of whom suffered the same fate, and not because science itself was viewed as suspect.

The effect of the repression, of course, was to radicalize even further those scientists who survived.63 Sinforoso Mutis was elected to Congress in 1821, the year before his death. Zea (in common with many Spanish liberal intellectuals) had backed the French in Spain; then he joined Bolívar in 1814 and later became vice-president of Gran Colombia under Bolivar and diplomatic agent to England, where he died in 1822. Luis de Rieux held a variety of commissions in the army, was elected senator in 1824, and was minister of war in 1830. Nariño, curiously enough, converted to a moderate form of federalism, perhaps in part owing to a suggestion made to him by Humboldt (according to Josep Pijoan).64


In Peru, as in New Granada, revolutionary stirrings were first heard within the confines of scientific tertulias. Unánue used to meet regularly for discussion with his close colleagues, including Paredes, Pezet, Gavino Chacaltana, Tafur, Valdés, and Devotti. As a result, Unánue, Paredes, Pezet, and Chacaltana were denounced to the viceroy as conspirators and censured in 1808.65 Several of these men, however, had previously run afoul of the authorities, in particular a branch of the Inquisition that was unusually zealous for this late date. Devotti had been accused of heresy in 1796, and Tafur had been charged with reading prohibited books in 1800. Subsequently, Pezet was denounced for heresy (in 1812) and, along with Devotti, imprisoned by the Inquisition in 1820.66 All these physicians were writing for the radical press in Lima in the years after 1810.

The Colegio de San Fernando was a hub of radical activity. There, for example, a fugitive Mexican patriot was hidden out for several months undetected by the viceroy, according to a reminiscence by Tafur, who was directly involved.67 When independence was declared in 1821, members of this group were still prominent. Unánue, Tafur, Dávalos, Pezet, and others signed the Act of Independence in the cabildo, and much the same roster participated in the collective swearing of the Protomedicato.68 The same names appear on the founding roster of the Patriotic Society, on lists of money contributed by private citizens toward military expenses, and in accounts of institutions founded in the wake of the revolution. Thus, Tafur and Pezet were named to the Freedom of the Press Junta; Paredes was appointed director of the National Library established by San Martín in 1822; and Dávalos and Devotti served on the Vaccine Commission in 1820. Eight physicians, including Unánue, Tafur, Paredes, and Pezet, were elected to the Constituent Congress in 1822, the medical contingent accounting for 7 percent of the deputies.69

More details could be added, but the pattern is clear. In Peru, because independence came late and because the creole elite was spared the burden of fighting the Spaniards by San Martín and then Bolívar, the scientific leadership remained intact and scientific institutions enjoyed greater continuity than was the case in New Granada or in Mexico where the conflict was bloody and extended.


In Mexico, creole scientists, notably students and graduates of the mining school, were involved in late colonial plots and in the early phase of the revolution, particularly Hidalgo’s insurrection of 1810-11. José Antonio Rojas, who had studied exact and natural sciences at the “Colegio Metálico,” had been prosecuted by the Inquisition—ostensibly for mesmerizing a woman through his mastery of the secrets of chemistry and electricity, but more likely for his radical and atheistic beliefs. In 1806 the viceroy heard that Rojas was in the United States, conspiring against the Spanish regime. His fellow students, particularly those who had met Humboldt and who had been sensitized by him to the appalling social conditions of Indian mine workers, enlisted in Hidalgo’s cause. Hidalgo had formed two regiments in Guanajuato in which Casimiro Chovell and José Mariano Jiménez were colonels. A Humboldt informant, Chovell was in charge of cannon making along with Rafael Dávalos, another mine school graduate who had aided Humboldt in making geological maps. Chovell, Dávalos, and fellow alumnus Ramón Fabié were executed in 1810. Jiménez’s unit joined that commanded by Isidro Vicente Valencia, another Humboldt informant and graduate of the same school. Jiménez and Valencia were executed the following year.70

The Mexican experience seems to have paralleled that of New Granada on a smaller scale. Those with (in this case) technical education were thrust into positions of leadership in the early phase of the revolution, and their executions, along with the destruction of the institutions that had educated them, further weakened the scientific capacity of the nation in the early years of independence.


I conclude from the above that the participation of scientists in the independence movements of New Granada, Peru, and Mexico was conditioned first by their education and second by the peculiar sensitivity of colonial naturalists to the issue of dependence. Among an educated elite that formed a very small percentage of the total society and from which the leadership of the independence movements was drawn, scientists were bound to play a role out of proportion to their numbers. This was particularly true of medical doctors, no doubt because the demand for medical services is fairly constant and therefore persons with medical training will form a disproportionately large element of the educated class in societies where only a few are educated.

The feeling of dependence upon Europe is a phenomenon that, if not peculiar to science and medicine, was at least heightened among members of those fields. It is also true that the naturalists, particularly those attached to the botanical expeditions, had a heightened sensitivity to the economic possibilities of their countries and therefore were able to provide arguments to support those demanding relief from economic dependence upon the Old World.

Latin American revolutionaries had before them the immediate example of the French and American Revolutions. It is frequently claimed that the French model was the more influential of the two. In the case of science, or, more accurately, the perceived relationship between science and independence, the American model was by far the more significant. To the scientists, France was part of the problem; the United States suggested a solution. Therefore, Franklin and Jefferson combined both political and scientific ideals and provided real role models. This is not to underestimate the impact of French ideas upon creole intelligentsia, but one hardly ever encounters the names of French leaders compared to the plethora of citations of Franklin.71

The notion that the Spanish regime was hostile to science was by and large an assessment a posteriori. The revolutionary scientists had all been trained in institutions founded by the Spanish government and employed in such enlightened ventures as the botanical expeditions. The role of Spain, indeed, causes curious and paradoxical questions of interpretation. With regard to France, Germany, and England, peninsular Spanish science was as fully dependent as the science of any of her colonies. Indeed, Spanish scientists frequently made the connection themselves. Juan de Cabriada had written in 1687, “How sad and even shameful it is that we must be the last to receive the news and culture that are already diffused throughout Europe, as if we were Indians.”72

Colonial scientists were able to establish lines of communication with other scientific centers (indeed with greater freedom in some cases than was possible in Spain itself), but without dissociating themselves from the Spanish scientific orbit. This can be appreciated clearly in Cavanilles’s journal Anales de Ciencias Naturales (Madrid, 1799-1804), in which it is possible to track the activities of non-Spanish European scientists in Latin America.

Colonial scientists appreciated their contacts with Europeans, but the government obliged them to transmit their findings to Madrid.73 After independence they found out how isolated they really were, deprived not only of the financial and logistical support of the metropolis but of lines of communication between Latin American centers. Thrown back upon their own resources, these scientific centers, which had seemed to be on the very threshold of scientific independence everywhere, suffered attrition and degeneration whether the war had destroyed their vitality (as in Colombia and Mexico) or the scientific community had come through the war relatively untouched (as in Peru). In retrospect, the desirability of breaking the bonds of dependence with Europe was a chimera, because the networks of scientific communication that had been established, however imperfectly, in late colonial times could not be replaced. Yet that very illusion, harbored by an energetic and creative group of naturalists, fed the fires of independence and lent to that movement a remarkable scientific tonality.


For the concepts of dependent (colonial) and independent science, see George Basalia, “The Spread of Western Science,” Science, 156:3775 (May 5, 1967), 611-622.


The first version of this essay was prepared for a comparative symposium, “Science and Revolution,” held at the 1976 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston. Participants were asked to comment on the role of science in the formation of revolutionary ideology and on the incidence and nature of participation by scientists in revolutionary movements, among other topics. At that meeting, the immediate frame of reference was the English, French, and American revolutions, the latter being more properly a movement of independence rather than a political revolution.


Leopoldo Zea, “Humboldt y la independencia de América,” in Marianne O. de Bopp et al., Ensayos sobre Humboldt (Mexico City, 1962), 108.


Luis Carlos Arboleda, “Acerca del problema de la difusión científica en la periferia: El caso de la física newtoniana en la Nueva Granada (1740-1820),” Quipu, 4 (1987), 24. See also, by the same author, “Mutis entre las matemáticas y la historia natural,” in Historia social de las ciencias: Sabios, médicos y boticarios (Bogotá, 1986), 11-23, and “Mutis, la Expedición Botánica y el nacimiento de una tradición científica en la Nueva Granada, in Production et réproduction des communautés scientifiques, ed. B. Latour and X. Polanco (Paris, in press).


Arboleda, “Física newtoniana,” regards this episode as proof of the weakness of local creole elites in the face of religious corporations that enjoyed royal backing. In this context, it is easy to see how Newtonian science picked up an anti-Spanish ideological charge.


Víctor S. Albis and Luis C. Arboleda, “Newton’s Principia in Latin America,” Historia Mathematica, 15:4 (Nov. 1988), 376-379.


For Mutis’s defense of Copernicus, see Guillermo Hernández de Alba, Crònica del muy ilustr Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, 2 vols. (Bogotá, 1938-40), II, 141-152. On the Moreno reform, ibid., II, 158, J. M. Salazar’s postindependence model curriculum likewise built the second year of study around Newtonian physics: “Instrucción pública en Colombia,” in Obras completas (n.p., n.d.), 86. On the Newtonianism of Valenzuela, see Hernández de Alba, Crónica, II, 173-174. Text of 1801 letter in Hernández de Alba, ed., Archivo epistolar del sabio naturalista don José Celestino Mutis, 4 vols. (Bogotá, 1968-75), II, 145-155. A. Federico Gredilla (Biografía de José Celestino Mutis [Madrid, 1911], 48) claims that the teaching of Newton’s theories throughout the realm was decreed by royal cédula but provides no further details.


Carlos Enrique Paz Soldán, “Isaac Newton y los albores de la escuela médica peruana,” Anales de la Sociedad Peruana de Historia de la Medicina, 1943, pp. 63-88. Carlos Pedamonte, in Mercurio Peruano, 8 (1793), 283.


J. J. Izquierdo, Montaña y los orígenes del movimiento social y científico de México (Mexico City, 1955), 33, 336.


Francisco José de Caldas, Obras completas (Bogotá, 1966), 179; Mario R. Argueta, “Francisco José de Caldas y Tenorio (1768-1816): Ciencia e independencia” (Ph. D. diss., University of Texas, 1971), 18.


Antonello Gerbi, The Dispute of the New World: The History of a Polemic, 1750-1900 (Pittsburgh, 1973), chap. 1 (on Buffon and the inferiority of American species), 3-34; José Hipólito Unánue, Observaciones sobre el clima de Lima y sus influencias en los seres organizados, en especial el hombre, 2d ed. (Madrid, 1815), 59, 64, 74-75, 97-100. On Jefferson’s refutation of Buffon, see Clarence J. Glacken, Traces on the Rhodian Shore (Berkeley, 1967), 681-682.


Caldas, “Del influjo del clima sobre los seres organizados,’’ Obras completas, 79-119; Gerbi, Dispute of the New World, 303-305 (on Unánue), 308-312 (on Caldas); Enrique Pérez Arbeláez, Alejandro de Humboldt en Colombia (Bogotá, 1959), 225; John E. Woodham, “The Influence of Hipólito Unánue on Peruvian Medical Science, 1789-1830: A Reappraisal,” HAHR, 50:4 (Nov. 1970), 707.


Gerbi, Dispute of the New World, 291; Woodham, “Influence of Unánue,” 713: Juan B. Lastres, La cultura peruana y la obra de los médicos en la emancipación (Lima, 1954), 50.


Germán Somolinos d’Ardois, “Tras la huella de Francisco Hernández: La ciencia novohispana del siglo XVIII,” Historia Mexicana, 4:2 (Oct.-Dec. 1954), 174-197, esp. 196 (Alzate’s praise of Hernández); Izquierdo, Montaña, 129, 131, 133-34. On Alzate’s vindication of Mexican botany, see also José Luis Peset, Ciencia y libertad: El papel del científico ante la Independencia americana (Madrid, 1987), 112-122.


Caldas, Obras completas, 389.


Izquierdo, Montaña, 132, 160, 162, 167, 171, 200. National divergence over Linnaeus was manifested during the visit of the Malaspina expedition to Mexico in 1791. Mexican naturalists like Alzate gravitated toward the Malaspina botanists as critical Linnaeans who rejected the dogmatism of the Spanish botanists of the Botanical Expedition. See Virginia González Claverán, La expedición científica de Malaspina en Nueva España, 1789-1794 (Mexico City, 1988), 197.


Stanley J. Stein and Barbara H. Stein, The Colonial Heritage of Latin America: Essays on Economic Dependence in Perspective (New York, 1970), parts 1 and 2.


For a discussion of scientific isolation in colonial Latin America, see Thomas F. Click and David M. Quinlan, “Félix de Azara: The Myth of the Isolated Genius in Spanish Science, "Journal of the History of Biology, 8:1 (Spring 1975), 67-83, esp. 78-83.


According to Arboleda (“Física newtoniana,” 19), the number of Newtonian texts circulating in eighteenth-century New Granada was high enough to suggest that access to the new ideas in Bogotá was comparable to European standards.


Diego Mendoza, Expedición botánica de José Celestino Mutis al Nuevo Reino de Granada y memorias inéditas de Francisco José de Caldas (Madrid, 1909), 134. Caldas felt he could best serve his country by doing science. A similar passage occurs in his highly confessional description of his experiments in “hypsometry” (Obras completas, 159): “Alone, isolated, without instruction, without books, without instruments, my own hand had to form, I had to create, whatever was necessary to be able to proceed in my research.” Alzate’s description of José Ignacio Bartolache as a man with no teacher who conversed only with the dead (via books) and who had no instruments except for those in pictures strikes the same notes (Peset, Ciencia y libertad, 33).


The “catedrático ilustrado” mentioned by Caldas in his letter to Mutis (Mendoza, Expedición botánica, 134) was Restrepo. In the same letter, Caldas complained of his difficulties in obtaining the works of Linnaeus, which were not to be found in any library in Popayán. Finally, a “generous friend” bought the Parte práctica of Linnaeus in Palau’s Spanish translation (ibid., 137), but his appetite for the theoretical portions, whetted by his reading of Casimiro Gómez Ortega’s Curso de botánica, was unsatisfied as of 1801. The “generous friend” may have been Antonio Nariño, whose library contained both of the titles cited (seen. 52). On the contents of Mutis’s library, see Jaime Mejía Duque, “Libros comprados por Mutis,” Bolívar (Bogotá), 10:48 (Oct. 1957), 521-524, and Hernández de Alba, Archivo epistolar, I, 133-134. For Humboldt’s judgment, Pérez Arbeláez, Humboldt en Colombia, 212.


Mendoza, Expedición botánica, 135.


Ibid., 142.


Pérez Arbeláez (José Celestino Mutis y la Real Expedición Botánica del Nuevo Reino de Granada [Bogotá, 1967]. 156-157) notes that Humboldt altered Europeans’ views of Mutis and the expedition favorably. Humboldt’s legitimation of American science is also mentioned by Zea, “Humboldt”, 113, and by Luis González, “Humboldt y la revolución de independencia,” in Ensayos sobre Humboldt, 207. In an opposite sense, Humboldt became the focus of clerical reaction against modern science. Note the attack of a “fanatical cleric” against “authors whom he called Humboldtians” (including Caldas) in New Granada (J. M. Salazar, “Elogio histórico del señor Francisco José de Caldas,’ Obras completas, 35). Humboldt’s role in the social history of science is not discussed systematically in Charles Minguet’s otherwise invaluable study, Alexandre de Humboldt, historien et géographe de l’Amérique espagnole, 1799-1804 (Paris, 1969).


Caldas, Obras completas, 157-158.


Caldas’s description of his discovery of hypsometry is reprinted ibid., 153—173. See analyses by Víctor S. Albis and Regino Martínez Chavanz, “Las investigaciones meteorológicas de Caldas,” Quipu, 4 (1987), 413-432, and Alfredo D. Bateman, “Caldas y la hipsometría,” in Lino de Pombo et al., Francisco José de Caldas: su vida, su personalidad y su obra, el descubrimiento de la hipsometría (Bogotá, 1958), 69-93, esp. 80 (on Humboldt’s confirmation). In fact, other mathematical formulas had been proposed before Caldas, although European scientists were unable to deduce a workable formula until the nineteenth century; see F. Cajori, “History of Determinations of the Heights of Mountains”, Isis, 12 (1929), 482-514. Cajori was unaware of Caldas’s discovery.


Caldas, Obras completas, 300 (my emphasis). Subsequent to their meeting, Humboldt supplied Caldas with books and scientific instruments. In Caldas’s letter to Mutis (April 21, 1803), he states that Humboldt had sent him a box of books on mathematics and natural history, many of which were in German, which he was unable to read (Mendoza, Expedición botánica, 215). See also an order given by Caldas to Humboldt for scientific instruments to be purchased in London, Paris, and Hamburg (Jorge Arias de Grieff, “Algomás sobre Caldas y Humboldt,’ Boletín de la Sociedad Geográfica de Colombia, 27 [1970], 3-15).


Caldas, Obras completas, 158.


Ibid., 13 (pamphlet of 1812).


Hermann A. Schumacher, Biografía cultural del sabio Caldas, trans. Gerardo Paz Otero (Bogotá, 1969), 105: “¿Esperaremos que hasta geográficamente mida Europa nuestra patria? ¿Y que así la descubre por segunda vez?”


Isolated genius myths are typically self-generated; see Click and Quinlan, "Félix de Azara, 79. As friend and teacher of Caldas, Restrepo must have known exactly through what agencies Caldas received scientific information; yet, since Caldas habitually stressed his own isolation, so did those who wrote about him. Likewise, Humboldt’s similar characterization of Mutis must have originated in the latter’s stressing the magnitude of his achievement against a background of perceived isolation. In Pérez Arbeláez (Humboldt en Colombia, 225-226), Humboldt says, “It is admirable that one man alone has been capable of conceiving and executing so vast a plan (my emphasis). Yet Humboldt knew perfectly well that Mutis had an ample and capable staff.


José Félix de Restrepo, Obras completas (Medellín, 1961), 258, 429, 433. Caldas had also referred to Spain as a nation “without science” (Schumacher, Biografía cultural, 107).


The same point was made by Francisco Antonio Zea in a response to DePauw: “Llegará un día en que las ciencias fijen aquí su habitación” (cited by Luis Carlos Arboleda, “La ciencia y el ideal de ascenso social de los criollos en el virreinato de Nueva Granada,” in Memorias de la conmemoración del bicentenario de Carlos III [Madrid, in press]).


Restrepo, Obras completas, 415, 429; Hernández de Alba, Crónica, II, 148, 392. On Juan Andrés, see Miguel Batllori, La cultura hispano-italiana de los jesuitas expulsos (Madrid, 1966), 515-545.


Inferences of Mutis’s problems with Casimiro Gómez Ortega, the imperious director of the Botanical Garden, can be gleaned from an exchange of letters between Mutis and Antonio José de Cavanilles in 1794 (Mutis, Archivo epistolar, II, 104-105; III, 202-203).


Lastres, Cultura peruana, 105; Hermilio Valdizán, “El doctor don Hipólito Unánue (Apuntes bio-bibliográficos),” Unánue: Revista Trimestral de Historia de la Medicina Peruana, 2 (1926), 38-39 n. 52.


Luis Pérez Botero, "José Félix de Restrepo, el filósofo de la Independencia,” in Restrepo, Obras completas, 420-421.


Gredilla, José Celestino Mutis, 35-36.


These include Emigdio Benrítez, José María Cabal, Custodio García Rovira, Frutos Joaquín Gutiérrez, José Gregorio Gutiérrez, and Manuel Rodríguez Torres, to cite only those who were executed. With the exception of the chemist Cabal, these men were not part of the New Granadan scientific network per se. But they were members of the same social class and, in most cases, were friends of the scientific elite who constituted a subgroup of that class. For identification of disciples of Mutis, see Florentino Vezga, Memoria sobre la historia del estudio de la botánica en la Nueva Granada (Bucaramanga, 1938), 187-188, 263, 284. On “patriotic science” as an element of political ideology, see Arboleda, “La ciencia.”


On Mutis’s domination of the entire educational system, see Vezga, Memoria, 187. On Restrepo’s chair as a branch office (sucursal) of the Botanical Expedition, see Restrepo, Obras completas, 134. On tertulias in Bogotá, see below. On scientific institutions, see especially Pérez Arbeláez, Mutis y la Real Expedición Botánica, Alfredo D. Bateman, El Observatorio Astronómico de Bogotá (Bogotá, 1953) and “El Observatorio Astronómico de Bogotá,” in Conferencias sobre la Expedición Botánica (Bogotá, 1958), 139-173.


Woodham, “Influence of Unánue," 698, 702-703, 710. Woodham notes (704) that of nine bachelor of medicine degrees granted by the university between 1792 and 1809, seven were received by Unánue’s students and the other two had studied with Unánue’s mentor, Gabriel Moreno.


According to Arboleda, “La ciencia," the Patriotic Society of Bogotá failed because its promotion of social reform and technological innovation ran contrary to the entrenched interests of the landholding class.


R. J. Shafer, The Economic Societies in the Spanish World (1763-1821) (Syracuse, 1958). 253-259; Caldas, in Semanario del Nuevo Reino de Granada, new ed., 3 vols. (Bogotá, 1942), III, 163.


Shafer, Economic Societies, 157-168; Lastres, Cultura peruana, 301. At the first meeting, papers were read by J. M. Valdés and José María Falcón, two other physicians associated with Unánue.


On Elhuyar’s problems, see Peset, Ciencia y libertad, 196.


Izquierdo, La primera casa de las ciencias en México: El Real Seminario de Minería (1792-1811) (Mexico City, 1958), 210, 220, 222-223.


On mulatto physicians and surgeons in Peru, see Lastres, Cultura peruana, 32-34, 44, 131–132; and John Tate Lanning, The Royal Protomedicato: The Regulation of the Medical Profession in the Spanish Empire (Durham, 1985), 183-187. The cleavage between romancista and latinista surgeons tended to run along racial lines. On Larrinaga, see Lastres, Cultura peruana, 46-48, 52; Lanning, Royal Protomedicato, 184, 220, 337; and Gerbi, Dispute of the New World, 291 n. 3. On Unánue and mulattos, see Woodham, “Influence of Unánue,” 703. Racial discrimination was not an overt issue in the Mexican scientific community, although Montaña, an abandoned child and reputedly an Indian (mistakenly, in all probability, although he spoke Nahuatl), had to obtain a certificate of blood purity in order to advance professionally. He also defended students expelled from the school of surgery for lacking such certificates; see Izquierdo, Montaña, 8-9, 91, 207-208.


Rizo was of low social class and possibly of African descent; see Lorenzo Uribe Uribe, “Salvador Rizo, artista botánico y prócer de la independencia,” Revista de la Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales, 11:42 (1960), xxiii. Also see Hernández de Alba, Crónica, II, 235-249, 287 (jóvenes de la primera nobleza).


Some representative benchmarks in this literature are Margaret C. Jacob, The Cultural Meaning of the Scientific Revolution (New York, 1988), chap. 3, for the English revolution; Brooke Hindle, The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America 1735-1789 (Chapel Hill, 1956), for the American; and, for the French, J. Fayet, La révolution française et la science, 1789-1795 (Paris, 1960), and Roger Hahn, The Anatomy of a Scientific Institution: The Paris Academy of Sciences, 1666-1803 (Berkeley, 1971), chap. 6.


Richard Graham, Independence in Latin America (New York, 1972), 71.


The point is well made by Mariano Ospina Rodríguez, cited in José Félix Restrepo, Obras completas (Medellín, 1961), 249.


For the inventory of Nariño’s books, see Eduardo Posada and P. M. Ibáñez, eds., El precursor: Documentos sobre la vida pública y privada del General Antonio Nariño (Bogotá, 1903), 164-179, 184-190. The scientific titles represent the following fields: medicine, 16; mathematics, 14; physics, 11; natural history, 10; chemistry, 4; pharmacy, 3; astronomy, 1—total, 59. His library also included numerous works in applied fields. The inventory is difficult to use, owing to the imprecision with which it was composed (most likely by two functionaries ignorant of science, one reading the titles aloud, translating them at sight, the other writing them down). For many works no author is given, and in other cases the name of the author is masked, e.g., Lineo (for Linneo—Linnaeus), Práctica botánica (Palau’s partial translation, mentioned by Caldas, above), and the Elementos de Buerhaar (Boerhaave).


The máquina eléctrica is listed in Posada and Ibáñez, eds., El precursor, 191: “dos cajones de madera de la máquina eléctrica.” Also in Guillermo Hernández de Alba, ed., Proceso contra don Antonio Nariño, 2 vols. (Bogotá, 1980), I, 206. The electricity titles are Mecánicas de electricidad. Descripción de la máquina eléctrica, and Navarro, Física eléctrica.


The design for Nariño’s study, where the tertulia “Arcano de la Filantropía” was to meet, included portraits of great philosophers and scientists in pairs (Franklin was paired with Plato) except for Newton, whose inscription read: "yo solo / oh tirado de las ciencias / en un carro sobre las nubes / et inducit illum in nubem / su genio lo elevó sobre las nubes / el cielo fue su morada.” See the hand-drawn diagram in Proceso contra Nariño, I, 166; a more legible, printed version is reproduced in Guillermo Hernández de Alba and Fernando Restrepo Uribe, Iconografìa de don Antonio Nariño y recuerdos de su vida (Bogotá, 1983). 25.


See Rieux’s defense of the tertulia in Posada and Ibáñez, eds., El precursor, 120. Nariño’s translation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man is found ibid., 45-48.


On the conspiracy, see Hernández de Alba, Crónica, II, 273-289; Posada and Ibáñez, eds., El precursor, especially 112, 130, 133-143 (Umaña), 124-125 (S. Mutis), 125-126 (Zea), and 132 (Cabal). See also J. C. Mutis’s letters to his sister regarding Sinforoso’s activities (Hernández de Alba, Archivo epistolar, II, 98-100): “Young men are imprudent; they unleash words without thinking and eagerly embark upon their perdition”; also 107–108 (Sinforoso’s arrest), 114-115 (his imprisonment), and 184-187 (Mutis’s letter of thanks to Cavanilles, dated July 1802). On governmental action against Rieux, see Sergio Elias Ortiz, Franceses en la independencia de la Gran Colombia, 2d ed. (Bogotá, 1971), 93. On Zea’s career and ideology, see Arboleda, “La ciencia.”


On the meeting in the observatory, see Pérez Arbeláez, Mutis y la Real Expedición Botánica, 189. For activities of Carbonell, see Proceres 1810 (Bogotá, 1960), 166-168. See Schumacher, Biografía cultural, on activities of Sinforoso Mutis, 102; on those of Lozano, 109-112, where activities of Camacho and Pombo are also described.


Caldas felt ambivalent about Lozano who, as president, tried to close the Botanical Expedition; see Pérez Arbeláez, Mutis y la Real Expedición Botánica, 192. Caldas’s views on Nariño are found in Schumacher, Biografìa cultural, 118-119; his antiwar statement in Vezga, Memoria, 239.


Vezga, Memoria, 243-244, 249.


Enrile’s letter of March 14, 1817, to the Despacho General de Indias is cited by Pérez Arbeláez, Mutis y la Real Expedición Botánica, 184-186. Enrile further noted that the scientific work could be started again inasmuch as the work required men trained only in botany “and adorned with general knowledge of other disciplines.”


Cited by Vezga, Memoria, 261. Lozano, one of the best educated men in New Granada, suffered a fate typical of liberal humanists whom circumstances thrust into positions of political leadership. His notorious liberality in pardoning his political enemies was matched neither by his enemies, foreign and domestic, nor by historians. John Lynch’s characterization of Lozano as “a weak nonentity possessed of little revolutionary fervor” is particularly insensitive (The Spanish American Revolutions, 1808-1826 [New York, 1973], 239).


Schumacher, Biografía cultural, 139; see corrective note by Alfredo Bateman on 146. The story appears to be a free adaptation of the legend, equally apocryphal, of the execution of Lavoisier. Caldas had received a stay of execution to complete some scientific work.


See, for example, Restrepo, Obras completas, 260.


Cited by Luis Maria Murillo, “Francisco José de Caldas y los fundamentos científicos del federalismo,” Revista de la Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales, 11:42 (1960), xi. Humboldt suggested dividing Colombia into provinces by drawing lines from a central point in the Andes radially down to the sea to create six states, each with a port. Humboldt’s influence on the generation of the próceres was pervasive; on his relationship with Bolívar, see Tulio Arends, Ciencia y tecnología en la época de Simón Bolívar (Caracas, 1986), 57-60.


Valdizán, “El doctor don Hipólito Unánue,” 26 n. 34, following Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, La Revolución de la Independencia del Perú (1809~1819) (Lima, 1924), 78. Vicuña claimed the meetings took place on the premises of the Colegio de San Fernando, but Valdizán notes that in 1808 the college had not yet been built. The viceroy’s action caused the mental unbalance of Paredes and Chacaltana and silenced Unánue until 1821. Vicuña called this conspiracy the first act of Peruvian independence.


Lastres, Cultura peruana, 96, 103. “Prohibited books” usually referred to works of French political and social authors.


See Tafur’s “Memoria sobre las causas que retardaron la independencia de Lima” (1822), Anales de la Sociedad Peruana de Historia de la Medicina, 1943, facs. 2, p. 116.


It is notorious that members of the elite signed the Act of Independence en masse, that many did so under duress, and that therefore no conclusions can be drawn concerning the political motives of the signers, except that early signers may be presumed to be more enthusiastic supporters of independence than later ones. See Timothy E. Anna, “The Peruvian Declaration of Independence: Freedom by Coercion,” Journal of Latin American Studies, 7:2 (Nov. 1975), 221-248. Yet even Anna (244) admits that the medical signers (Unánue, Pezet, Valdés, Devotti, Tafur, et al.) were unrepresentative of the elite as a whole “because of their breadth of interests and achievements.” They were thus set apart from the more normative groups of opportunistic pretendientes hoping to win a place in the revamped postrevolutionary elite. In excluding the doctors, Anna tacitly supports a correlation between espousal of scientific values and support of political change.


On participation of Peruvian physicians in revolutionary institutions, see Lastres, Cultura peruana, 92, 119, 260-261, 263, 264 n. 2, 265. On physicians in congress, ibid., 310-326, and Valdizán, “El doctor don Hipólito Unánue,” 46-47 n. 62. Paredes once served as president, Tafur as vice-president, of the Peruvian congress.


On Rojas, see Pablo González Casanova, La literatura perseguida en la crisis de la colonia (Mexico City, 1958), 118-130, 164-165; and Nuria Pons, “Ingenieros en la independencia,” in Ingenieros en la Independencia y la Revolución (Mexico City, 1987), 63-78. On Chovell and Fabié, see Izquierdo, Primera casa de ciencias, 223-227; Santiago Ramírez, Datos para la historia del Colegio de Minería (Mexico City, 1890; reprint ed., 1982), 218-219; and Pons, “Ingenieros,” 79-86 (Chovell), 87-126 (Jiménez), 127-128 (Dávalos), and 129-130 (Fabié).


On the influence of Franklin in Ecuador, see Joedd Price, “Images and Influences: The Legacy of the Founding Fathers and the Federal System in Ecuador,” Latin American Research Review, 10:3 (Fall 1975), 125.


Juan de Cabriada, Carta filosófica, médico-chymica, cited by J. M. López Piñero, La introducción de la ciencia moderna en España (Barcelona, 1969), 5 (my emphasis).


Zea, a creole who had made a success in the metropolitan scientific establishment, criticized what he perceived as the excessive autarchy of Mutis’s Botanical Expedition but also wanted New Granada to be scientifically self-sufficient; Arboleda, “La ciencia.”