Science and technology in the American venture

Xavier Agenjo Bullón
Project Director of the Ignacio Larramendi Foundation




Patata — Solanum tuberosum. Lámina

When presenting a project such as the Virtual Library of Science and Technology in the American venture, the librarian is faced with the prejudice that exists, far above any other, about the contribution of Spanish science and technology to the whole of science and technology in the rest of Europe and, in particular, to that based on American venture. (Bibliographic and technical aspects are detailed in the Note to this digital edition)

This was not always the case. As will be seen, the works of Spanish, and later Hispanic and Iberian, scientists were highly regarded by their contemporaries and successors; as proof of this, translations into all European languages (French, English, Italian and, to a lesser extent, Latin, Dutch and German) multiplied over two centuries. There were also constant reissues, which are counted in dozens, as can be seen precisely in this virtual library.

It was the most outstanding scientists of the time who were in charge of translating Spanish or Hispanic works, which are constantly cited. In fact, the personal library of Isaac Newton contains copies of the works of José de Acosta, Benito Arias Montano and the work, especially worked on by the brilliant scientist, Hugo de Omerique.[*]. This situation reaches as far as Humboldt, who states that no nation like Spain has ever dedicated so many resources and so many men to research and science in America. However, it is precisely in Humboldt's time when the situation changed and all those denigrating pamphlets and writings that had been created in times of Hispanic hegemony crystallized in what was later called La leyenda negra (The Black Legend), a legend that should already have been more than surpassed and that in relation to Spanish Science was used even in Spain and in Latin American countries.

It was not until Menéndez Pelayo's cyclopean work that the foundations for a rigorous knowledge of Science and Technology in Spain began to be laid. Don Marcelino died at the age of 55 and his line of research in critical thinking was followed by Bonilla and San Martín, who also died prematurely at the age of 51, and Don Ramón Menéndez Pidal, his other executor, who lived until the age of 99.

Fotos de Pedro Laín Entralgo y José María León-PortillaOther major milestones follow this recovery. Among them, the encyclopaedic work (based on the critical acceptance of that of Menéndez Pelayo) by Pedro Laín Entralgo, whose Universal History of Medicine created a school to which Francisco Guerra, Luis García Ballester, Luis Sánchez Grangel and, above all, José María López Piñero belonged, another great milestone that also created a school among those who came together around the Institute ofHistory of Medicine and Science which now bears his name and whose work and numerous publications are almost as astonishing as those of Menéndez Pelayo (the same cannot be said of his magnificent digital library, whose information management system can be greatly improved). Also the school of those that studied Hebrew and Arabic has made very important contributions, many of them related to cosmography, navigation, etc. Its most outstanding figure is that ofJuan Vernet and his teacher, Josep M.ª Millàs Vallicrosa.

Not only has the contribution of the Spanish scholars served to reconsider and criticise, certainly very positively, Spanish scientists and technicians, but the Americans themselves have made important contributions to this common past. Among the latter isMiguel León-Portilla, who, although he is the author of Visión de los vencidos (Vision of the defeated), is still the guarantor of the anthropological and linguistic contributions of the Spaniards and of the American mixed race themselves, who were trained in trilingual schools where they learned Spanish, Latin and Nahuatl. They gave rise to an unparalleled series of multilingual studies, until three centuries later, certain European colonising powers joined these studies.

It is important to point out that the American venture, following the deeds of the great cosmographer Andrés de Urdaneta, not only included the journey from America to Asia, already known, but also the "tornaviaje (return trip)" from Asia to America, a sea route opened by Urdaneta and carried out from 1565 by Spanish galleons known as Nao de Acapulco or China. This two-track approach brought these two parts of the world together as much as it already did thanks to Portuguese science and technology that outlined Africa.

Página con los primeros versos de la Oda de Camoes en los Coloquios dos simples…The impressive Portuguese development in Asia in terms of our interests in this study is forged in the work of García de Orta and Cristóbal de Acosta. It is curious that the first verses published by Luis de Camões appeared in the preliminary pages of Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da Índia, by Orta. The work was widely known in Europe as well as the Treatise of drugs and medicines of the East Indies of Acosta, from the work of Clusius, Latin name of Charles de L'Écluse.

An excellent summary of all these considerations related to the importance of science and technology in American venture is the commentary byErnesto SábatoUno y el Universo” (1945), in which he answers the famous observation by Wells in his The Outline of History (1919) that we give below. First of all, it is significant that it is an Argentinian who responds to a science fiction author like Wells on a subject like this, without forgetting that Sábato was not only an extraordinary novelist and journalist, but also a doctor of Physics and Chemistry who went on to work at the Curie laboratories. The fragment of the aforementioned text from Sábato is as follows:

H. G. Wells says: "It was a disgrace to science that the first Europeans to arrive in America were Spaniards with no scientific curiosity, only a thirst for gold, and that, driven by blind fanaticism, still exacerbated by a recent religious war, they made very few interesting observations about the customs and ideas of these primitive peoples. They murdered, robbed, enslaved them, but they took no note of their customs. Botanist Hicken delivers the following verdict: "The first explorers arrived at the River Plate with the Aristotelian baggage, almost completely illiterate..."

Leaving aside this idea of Aristotelian training in Spanish sailors - and the courageous synonymy between Aristotelianism and illiteracy - the opinions quoted reflect the long-held judgement on the discovery and colonisation of America. It is not clear, however, how the discovery of a continent, the long and risky sea voyages, the drawing of geographical maps and the exploitation of Peruvian and Mexican mines, could have been carried out without knowledge of astronomy, geography, nautical science, cartography and metallurgy. There is reason to accuse H. G. Wells of lack of imagination, which is unique, and Dr. Hicken of exaggerated optimism about the possibility of combining Aristotle's doctrine with illiteracy.

Navigation on the high seas was made possible thanks to the legacy of Greek astronomy, later enriched by the Arabs, Jews and Christians of the Middle Ages, who were driven by technical needs and astrological prejudices; the Alphonsine Tables are the compilation of all that was known at the time to be essential in the astronomical sciences[1].

The metallurgy, which allowed the mining exploitation of America, came from the Romans and had been perfected by the Arabs in the mines of Almadén.

Fotos de Ernesto Sábato y de H. G. WellsConversely, the great discoveries of the 14th and 15th centuries destroyed superstitions, astronomical, geographical, ethnographic, linguistic and climatological prejudices. The emerging trend to free examination is strengthened, and both by the mental revolution they provoke and by economic and social transformations, the discoveries of that time accentuate the cultural fact of the Renaissance. The invention of the printing press multiplies the importance of new ideas and an era of great material and spiritual activity begins.

From the "Discovery", the monsters (basilisks, griffons, dragons) that Aristotle, Strabo and some medieval thinkers imagined populating the world beyond the borders of the ecumenical, as well as the fabulous seas and lands that contained them, vanish like nocturnal ghosts: the periusta zone, the maritime lung, the dark sea. From that moment on, these monsters lose their status as real objects and are granted their status as dream objects.

Columbus himself was endowed with a scientific spirit: a sense of observation and a theoretical commitment. His observations of magnetic declination would suffice to give him a name in the history of physics; it is true that his theory of the phenomenon is false, but the current ones are also false. Even Almirante’s mistakes are scientific and, far from serving to condemn him, are the best proof of his healthy confidence in the science of the time.

The biggest mistake of all he made was, without a doubt, his own discovery. In this regard, school textbooks have spread the image of an omniscient Columbus arguing before a cunning, ignorant and ill-disposed Salamancan board. It is difficult to know today what was discussed at that meeting, but it can be assumed that many of the arguments put forward against Almirante were scientifically correct.

It is not credible that the theoretical possibility of reaching the East from the West was discussed: at that time no moderately educated person denied the sphericity of the Earth - which had been measured by Eratosthenes of Alexandria. It is likely that there were two kinds of objections: firstly, some theologian may have spoken of the possibility of "slipping", once a certain limit had been exceeded in navigation; this was a common opinion, since, as there was no idea of gravitation towards the centre, it was thought that it was impossible to live in regions that were far away from the centre of Europe: Saint Isidore did not even admit to the existence of inhabitants in Libya, due to the excessive slope of the ground; much less could one believe in the possibility of going around the world, for the same reason that the existence of the antipodes was denied, those absurd inhabitants with their heads upside down; Cicero himself, eclectic and sceptical, believes it necessary to assure his friend Lucullus not to despise "this belief” (Primeras cuestiones académicas (First academic issues), Book II).

The other kind of objection that Almirante may have had is sensible and acceptable: the Greek geodesy had calculated quite different values for the circumference of the earth, and the one Paolo del Pozzo Toscanelli offered Columbus in his map was based on Posidonius’ data - much lower than the real values - and on his exaggerated calculation of the extent of the old continent.

In short, Columbus thought that the distance to the East was no more than 1200 leagues, a distance he calculated to cover in five weeks. On the contrary, many scholars of the time knew the calculations of Eratosthenes, which are almost exact, and which gave a much greater value than that obtained by Posidonius. These calculations showed that the trip was crazy.

In spite of everything, Columbus made the expedition and by chance wanted it to take just five weeks to reach the new continent, which explains why it was stated in his erroneous idea of having arrived in India. Today we know that Erosthenes of Alexandria had calculated with astonishing precision and that Columbus and his technical advisers were wrong. But with this kind of mistake is how humanity moves forward.[2].

Fotografía de José María López PiñeroIf the Discovery meant a colonisation in the political and economic field, something similar happened in the field of science and technology. However, the new panorama offered by America was the greatest impulse that many branches of science have ever received, especially at a time when the infallibility of classical knowledge had entered into crisis and new perspectives for the different fields of knowledge were opening up.

Elliot said quite rightly that early Modern Europe was quicker to respond to the New World experience than Medieval Europe was to the experience of the Islamic world. The lessons taught by the West Indies were more easily learned; Europe was more willing to learn. There were, however, problems and obstacles of time and space.

First came a period of observation followed by another period of description (detailing the unknown for all to understand). It then moved on to the dissemination and propagation of new information and new knowledge, ideas and images. Finally, the incorporation of all this with greater or lesser fortune, with greater or lesser coherence, into the European cultural heritage; the unknown was already completed as an existing phenomenon in its own right.[3]

As Professor José María López Piñero pointed out in the prologue to the book El tesoro natural de América. Colonialismo y ciencia en el siglo XVI: Oviedo, Monardes, Hernández:

the history of Spanish scientific activity continues to be considered a subject of ideological debate, totally alien to research [...] Any attempt at a serious approach, based on a patient study of the sources, is impertinent, both for those who arrogantly talk about a country outside science', in order to avoid the risk of being accused of jingoism with a denouncement that they consider courageous and progressive, and for those who sing eulogies of “national scientific glories” from centralism, peripheral nationalism or simple localism.

The contributions of Nicolás de Monardes and Francisco Hernández marked a radical change in the process of introducing American medicine into Europe, at a time when the academic environment was dominated by Renaissance humanism and its medical aspect known as "humanist galenism". The interest in the medical subject matter of the time was tremendously influenced by the Nebrija tradition and later by the commented version of the Dioscorides treatise published by Andrés Laguna.

The different foundations and orientations of the works of Monardes and Hernandez led them to have different approaches and scope. Monardes' point of view on pharmacognosy and therapeutics, which is why he dwelt on the description of medicinal substances in their preparation methods, therapeutic indications and modes of administration.

His works were widely disseminated throughout Europe through a series of editions of his original or abridged texts and exerted an extraordinary influence that not only made them the starting points and obligatory references for subsequent work on American medical matters, but also milestones that weighed heavily on the evolution of several related scientific disciplines.[4]

Navigation, cosmology, cosmography and mathematics

Portada del libro El arte de navegar en la España del Renacimiento, de José María López PiñeroIn the introduction to his book El arte de navegar en la España del Renacimiento, (The Art of Navigation in Renaissance Spain), José María López Piñero establishes an analogical parallel between the discovery of America (12 October 1492) and the arrival of man on the moon (Armstrong and Aldrin, 21 July 1969). Two transcendental historical events that differed in time, but were even more differentiated from a scientific and technical point of view.

The Spain of the 16th century was, as we have seen, the heir to a brilliant tradition in the field of practical astronomy, whose continuity was maintained throughout the Middle Ages. This continuity was not interrupted during the 16th century; nautical type applications, as well as those related to astrology and the reform of the calendar, kept alive the practice of observations, the preparation of tables and the interest in perfecting the instruments. In this way, Spain occupied a worthy place in the last stage of traditional practical astronomy, which used very refined instruments, but without optical amplifications.

The University of Salamanca[5] was during this period the main academic focus of peninsular cosmography. In fact, it welcomed the work of Copernicus and his Heliocentric System, a subject that must be mentioned, since only in Spain and England did Copernicanism have a positive echo, especially at a time when its rejection was general throughout Europe, both in Catholic and Protestant circles.

The development of navigation and cosmography during this century was risky and inciting, demanding a great deal of initiative and ingenuity from its protagonists and exposing the theoretical and practical foundations that made it possible to navigate at sea, the revelation, we could also say the unveiling, of an unsuspected, unforeseen and even heterodox quarter of the world, of a new continent.

During the 16th century, Spanish nautical treatises dominated the European scene, such as those of Martín Cortés, Breve compendio de la sphera y de la arte de navegar (a brief summary of the sphera and the art of sailing )(1551); Pedro Medina, Arte de navegar (Art of sailing) (1545, the first on this subject in Europe) and Regimiento de navegación (Navigation Regiment )(1552); Diego García de Palacio, Instrucción náutica (Nautical instruction) (Mexico, 1587); Rodrigo Zamorano Compendio de la arte de navegación (Compendium of the art of navigation) (1581).

Spain's contribution to the new art of sailing made possible the discovery expeditions and the maintenance, for the first time in history, of communications and transport on a planetary scale. This "Art of sailing", the first phase of modern nautical science, was one of the earliest "applied" disciplines, that is to say, an activity based on a scientific basis of considerable complexity.

José María López Piñero in his book El arte de navegar en la España del Renacimiento. (Teoría y técnica del arte español de navegar del siglo XVI)[6], already wondered "how and why the nautical preponderance achieved in the 15th and 16th centuries is lost, and to whom should the maritime decay be passed from the 17th century onwards". And there was no doubt that the answer had to be ideological, political, social and economic, as well as historical, following the words of Pedro de Medina in El Arte de Navegar "The Spaniards have not only had and still have the effort and courage, but the industry of knowing how to make routes on the water where nature has denied them, guided by a coast as movable as the sky and the stars". López Piñero added:

Eurocentrism, "without complexes and unconscious" according to Chaunu's expression, was so complex that it identified the discovery of a territory by Europeans with its integration into the whole of humanity. On this occasion, we have come to speak of the "entry into history" of such territories by an abundant essayism anchored in one form or another in romantic ethnocentrism. […]

The limitations imposed by nationalism on the historical study of these discoveries were even more serious. The anachronistic projection of the 19th century European nations dismembered research into unjustifiable compartments that favoured patriot fiction. On the other hand, nationalism provoked an ideological confrontation between the historical work carried out on the subject in Spain and Portugal and that carried out in the rest of Europe. The former tried to claim a "glorious national past" in the face of contemporary decadence and humiliation, while the latter were driven, to a greater or lesser degree, by the need for historical alibis at a time when their colonial empires were expanding. The triumphalist nature of the latter has played a significant role in the consideration of discoveries from the point of view of science and technology, since they have projected backwards the superiority of North-West Europe in this field during the contemporary period. This is why, for example, the typical nationalist approach of German historians in the early 20th century was to interpret the discoveries almost as a mere consequence of the progress of Central European astronomy in the 15th century. On the other hand, the Spanish authors, for reverse reasons, put an individualistic perspective at the forefront and tended to use the idealistic rhetoric of adventure, courage and spiritual motivation. In this way, scientific and technical aspects took second place...[7]

The authors who have been selected in this section of the library refer to their bibliographic record in the virtual library; are the following:

Portada del Arte de navegar…, de Pedro de Medina.1. Pedro de Medina (1493-ca. 1567). Mathematician, geographer, cartographer, astronomer, historian.

He wrote some treatises on cosmography, such as the Libro de cosmographia (Book of Cosmography) (1538), the Coloquio de Cosmographia (Colloquium on Cosmography) (1543) and the so-called Suma of Seville (Suma de Cosmographia, 1561), texts in which the method is used (still in force) to specify the apparent movements of the stars and to fix their positions in the celestial sphere, taking fundamental reference points that serve to establish a system of coordinates.

In his most outstanding work, Arte de navegar (1545),  which included all the knowledge of the time on cosmography applied to nautical practices. As has already been said, he was the first to write on this subject in Europe and to influence Pedro Nunes and Michel Coignet. It was used as a guide for later treatises dating from the 16th and 17th centuries on this same subject. It was translated into English, French, and Italian several times. He later published Regimiento de navegación, less technical than the previous one, and the Libro de las grandezas y cosas memorables de España.

As an authority on these matters, the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade) frequently consulted him on matters relating to nautical instruments and sea charts.

2. Andrés de Urdaneta (1498-1568). Military, cosmographer, marine, explorer and member of a religious order.

Retrato de Andrés de Urdaneta.He joined the expedition of García de Joffre de Loaysa in La Coruña, when it sailed for the Philippines in 1525. After 8 years he returned to the Moluccas, via Ceylon and Cochin, to retire to New Spain as a friar of the Order of the Augustinians. This polygraph, whose personal life is particularly adventurous and strenuous, possessed a deep cosmological and nautical knowledge.

The expedition that would provide Urdaneta with a place in history was the one that united him to the Legazpi Expedition to the Philippines in 1564. Its scientific reputation reached universal fame documented in the navigation logbook for discovering and documenting the route across the Pacific Ocean from the Philippines to Acapulco (10 June -3 October 1565) using the high latitude route, known as the "Urdaneta Route" or "Tornaviaje", which opened the route that would be the usual one for galleons bound for Manila for more than two centuries.[8]

The evangelization of the Philippines, which is still the only Catholic country in Asia, began thanks to Urdaneta and the other four Augustinian friars who accompanied him on the Legazpi expedition.

It is significant that on his return from the "tornaviaje" Urdaneta gave an account of his great achievement before the cosmographers of Philip II and met in Valladolid with Jerónimo de Chaves, Martín Cortés, Pedro de Medina and Alonso de Santa Cruz, among others. This shows the extent to which the American venture was perfectly coordinated.

It must be said that the discovery of the sea route back to the New Continent from Asia, the return voyage, allowed the so-called Nao of Acapulco or Galleon of Manila or any of the cities on the route (the Nao was a galleon that they used to call according to the city of the port of destination) to regularly maintain their route for 250 years, thus creating the first global economic system in the world.

Fotografía del nonio conservado en el Museo de la Historia y de la Ciencia de Florencia.3. Pedro Nunes (1502-1578). Mathematician and astronomer. He taught Logic at the University of Lisbon and Mathematics at the University of Coimbra. He also worked in Goa.

Author of the Tratado da esfera (1537), written from a translation of the Tractatus de sphaera, by Johannes de Sacrobosco, and the Tratado sobre certas dúvidas de navegação. He invented the nonius or vernier, a device to fix the position of the stars in relation to the horizon line in the astrolabe, which was decisive for navigation on the high seas. He participated in most of the Portuguese discoveries.

Pedro Nunes played an important role in the geographical discoveries by Portuguese sailors. Not only did he write about his mathematical and scientific achievements, he also left evidence of his life as well as a collection of Greek and Latin poems and religious notes he composed during his later years.[9]

Portada del libro Islario general de todas las islas del mundo, de Alonso de Santa Cruz.4. Alonso de Santa Cruz (1505-1567). Spanish cartographer and historian of the Renaissance.

In 1533, the Council of the Indies brought together the Piloto Mayor (Master Navigator) and other members to examine the nautical charts and instruments presented by Santa Cruz after his participation in the expedition commanded by Sebastian Caboto to the Spice Islands, now known as the Maluccas, an expedition that was vital for his training and which was reflected in his work "Islario General" [10]

In 1554 he was called to the Court by Charles I, spending seven years in Valladolid, dedicated to the preparation of books on astrology, cosmography and philosophy at the service of the emperor and his son, Philip II.

If there is a superposition of Santa Cruz's work with his biography, we can appreciate the existence of two great stages in his life, an educational and informative one and the other a period of development and scientific and technical projection.

 From his works we can highlight the Libro de las longitúdines y manera que hasta agora se ha tenido en el arte de navegar, con sus demostraciones y ejemplos, Crónica del Emperador Carlos V, Islario general de todas las islas del mundo, as well as a Historia Universal to which we should add the Geografía Universal.

Reproducción de un fragmento del grabado de la portada de Chronographia…5. Jerónimo de Chaves (1523-1574). Mathematician, cosmographer, astrologer, historian, polyglot and translator of scientific works from Italy; student of the arts and medicine in general.

Son of Alonso de Chaves, who was a “piloto mayor,” topographical engineer and cosmographer. His first published work was Chronographia o repertorio de tiempos, el mas copioso y precisso, que hasta ahora ha salido a luz (Chronograph or repertoire of times, the most abundant and precise, which has so far has been published)(1548), a work from which twelve editions were made with royal privilege (even after his death it was published for another 10 years with the express permission of King Philip II).

First professor of Cosmography at the Casa de Contratación in Seville from 1552. He succeeded Sebastian Caboto[11] in the post of Piloto Mayor of the Casa de la Contratación.

The cosmography of the Casa de Contratación of Seville was supported in the Tractatus de sphaera, by Sacrobosco, as well as, in general, by all treatises that were dedicated to the art of sailing. Most of them begin with a part or chapter of the Esfera, as we have seen for example in Pedro Nunes' chapter, which is only a summary of the former. In turn, in 1552 Jerónimo de Chaves published a Spanish version with a practical approach and full of technical additions.

He was also the author of an important number of astronomical tables, charts and maps; for example, the first map of Florida, published in 1584 by the Flemish cosmographer Abraham Ortelius in his Theatrum orbis Terrarum, the most widely disseminated Atlas in Europe in the second half of the 16th century.

Even before he was professor of Cosmography at the Casa de Contratación, he already had a large collection of American objects, both natural and artificial. He came to bring together about 400 pieces from the Indies, a collection of maps and a magnificent library with more than 500 titles.

6. Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa (1532-1592). Marine, explorer, historian, astronomer and scientist.

He trained in Pontevedra where he began his naval career and studied mathematics and nautical science. He arrived in the Indies in 1557. There he was commissioned to write the History of the Incas and learned through the Inca Tupac-Yupanqui of the South Pacific lands. He was a navigator of one of the ships that were assembled for the expedition to the western lands and which resulted in the discovery of theSolomon Islands and Barbados (from barbudos).

As general cosmographer of the kingdoms of Peru he had the opportunity to speak with the successors of the Incas, which served him to write the aforementioned History of the Incas. In addition, the mission that was entrusted to him to capture Francis Drake or Francisco Dráquez as he was called at the time, allowed him to explore the canals of Patagonia, the Strait of Magellan and draw up maps of the islands, canals, towns, etc., taking possession of all of them in the name of the King of Spain. He drew a multitude of nautical charts and participated in the manufacture of instruments that facilitated navigation.

Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa was undoubtedly one of the most cultured chroniclers in America. A man with an academic background and an outstanding scientific interest, he combined his intellectual talents with his attraction for adventure. This set of personal characteristics and inclinations define him as one of the most fascinating characters of the Hispanic projection in the New World.

Retrato de Martín Cortés en un grabado de Breue compendio de la sphera…7. Martín Cortés (1545-1582). Cosmographer. He made important contributions to nautical science, mathematics, cosmology, geography and technology.

His most notable contribution was the estimation of the magnetic poles, differentiated from the terrestrial ones, based on the deviations of the compass in the different places, which left the variability of the magnetic declination established. Among his writings should be mentioned Breue compendio de la sphera y de la arte de nauegar con nueuos instrumentos y reglas: exemplificado con muy subtiles demonstraciones.

Martín Cortés and Alonso de Santa Cruz are credited, on the Spanish side, with the invention of the spherical sea charts, based on the progressive separation of the parallels. This invention seems to be due to the Dutchman Gerardo Kremer (Gerardus Mercator) and is also claimed by the English for Edward Wright. The spherical charts hold the angles by means of an ingenious spacing of the parallels so that the trajectories of the ships that march in a constant course appear as straight lines.

Portada del Regimiento de navegación…, de García de Céspedes.8. Andrés García de Céspedes (1560-1611). Spanish Renaissance Cosmographer.

After the death of Pedro Ambrosio de Ondériz, in 1596 García de Céspedes was named his successor in the position of Senior Cosmographer of the Council of the Indies, where he remained until his death. From that position as well as from that of ‘Piloto Mayor,’ which he held from 1596 to 1598, the year in which Rodrigo Zamoranowas rehabilitated, he participated in the correction of the navigation instruments and devised new ones, since he was a remarkable designer and builder of scientific devices. He also corrected numerous errors in the "royal register" which served as the official model for the navigation charts

By order of the Council, he wrote his Regimiento de navegación, the last important title of the great series of Spanish nautical treatises of the time. To write the book, he used the writings of Pero Nunes, Copernicus -which he used pragmatically, without going into doctrinal questions- and, especially, the work of Tycho Brahe In the Regimiento, García de Céspedes included a table for the Longitude and latitude of some fixed stars.

He also left some handwritten Theories, the first part of which explains "the theories according to the doctrine of Copernicus", while the second part "in which he declares, according to our observations, the reasons why the movements of the Sun and Moon are mistaken, both in Copernicus and in King Alfonso".

He created the School of High Mathematics as a basis for understanding astronomy at the Monastery of El Escorial. He devised a system for the construction of sundials and invented a mechanism that facilitated the measurement of magnetic declination.

Grabado del frontispicio del libro Analysis geometrica…9. Antonio Hugo de Omerique (1634 - 1698). Mathematician and geometrician.

A descendant of merchants, he studied in the Jesuits, from whom he received his training in Latin and mathematics. The arithmetic and trigonometry treatises have been lost from his production.

His most important work is Analysis geometrica, sive nova et vera methodus resolvendi tam problemata geometrica, quam arithmeticas quaestiones. Pars prima de planis, published in Cádiz in 1698. This work was valued and praised by Newton ("I have look into De Omerique´s Analysis Geometrica & fint it a judicious & valuable piece answering to ye Title. For therin is laid a foundation for restoring the Analysis of the Anciens...").

The first reference to Omerique's work in a book on the History of Mathematics can be found in Histoire des Mathematiques, by  Montucla[12]. It is possible that Montucla did not know about Newton's letter and it is also possible that he did not know about the biography Henry Pemberton wrote in 1728 View of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy[13] and of the passage where he claimed: "More than once I have heard [Newton] approve of Hugo de Omerique's undertaking to re-establish the old Analysis." This comment influenced the positions and arguments that defenders and detractors of scientific progress in Spain maintained throughout the 19th century, many of which place the work of the Cádiz-based scientist as the only mainstay of the scientific progress of the time.

The second part of the work, De problematicus solidus, was lost. The work for Tablas artificiales [of logarithms] is also his (1691).

Grabado de un retrato de Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora.10. Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora (1645- 1700). Novohispanic scientist, historian and literary (from New Spain, now Mexico), contemporary of Newton and Leibniz.

He studied in the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico City. In 1672 he took up the post of professor of astrology and mathematics, in the position held by Diego Rodríguez 30 years earlier; he held it for 20 years making remarkable contributions, while simultaneously serving as chaplain of the Hospital del Amor de Dios.

He rigorously based his arguments on comets according to the most up-to-date scientific knowledge of his time; against the Thomism and Aristotelism of Father Eusebio Kino he cited authors such as Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Kepler and Tycho Brahe.

In 1691 heavy rains fell in Mexico that flooded the fields and threatened to flood the city. As a consequence of all this humidity, a plague was produced that consumed the wheat fields and that was due to an insect similar to the flea, thechiahuistle,  which Sigüenza discovered by means of the use of a precursor apparatus of the microscope.

In 1681 Sigüenza wrote the book Manifiesto philosóphico contra los cometas despojados del imperio que tenían sobre los tímidos, in which he tried to calm the superstitious fear that this cosmic phenomenon provoked in people. As a royal cosmographer of New Spain, he drew hydrological maps of the Valley of Mexico. In 1693, he was sent by the viceroy as a companion to Admiral Andrés de Pez on an exploratory trip to the northern Gulf of Mexico and, in particular, to the Florida Peninsula, where he mapped Pensacola Bay and the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Natural sciences Natural history

In the 16th century, the geographical expansion of the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula and the colonial exploitation of immense territories of the New World would modify the intellectual schemes of Europeans. The task lasted centuries; the first of them made known the enormous effort of a series of characters, especially Spanish, such as Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Nicolás Monardes and, very specially, Francisco Hernández, who have marked our scientific culture.[14]

With regard to the paragraph in question, account must be taken of a barrier that does not affect research on the subject but the dissemination of its results. It is, of course, the poor communication of the history of science with respect to the rest of the historical studies. Until a couple of decades ago, the norm in our country was almost complete disconnection. In Spain's history treatises, for example, scientific activity was often conspicuous by its absence or at most reduced to an unpleasant and hastily exposed heading in the "Cultural" chapters.

For example, in the field of medicine and pharmaceuticals, the search for health and remedies for the cure of illnesses have always been elements that have launched man towards the discovery and verification of products of different origins. Sometimes this long and arduous journey has led him to use procedures so varied that they range from magic and religion to science. Both classical and modern scientific medicine, especially in the therapeutic field, have acculturated a large number of healing objects and techniques from other cultures. Thus, one of the most important and memorable pages in the history of European medicine and pharmacotherapy was the incorporation of products of American origin into the curative arsenal of physicians.

Gradually and steadily, throughout the 16th century, the experiences and knowledge acquired by Europeans were gradually introduced to American lands. At the same time, ancestral traditions of the inhabitants of America were transmitted and merged with the medical knowledge of the peoples of the Old World.[15]

As in the previous section, the authors who have been selected refer to their bibliographic record in the virtual library and are the following:

Portada de la Sumario de la natural y general hystoria de las Indias11. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (1478-1557)

He entered the service of Prince Don Juan, son of the Catholic Kings, with whom he helped in the surrender of Granada. After the death of the prince (1497), he went into the service of Cardinal Juan de Borja, which took him temporarily to Italy. Afterwards, he returned to Spain withFernando de Aragón, duke of Calabria, as a notary public of the Inquisition for a brief period of time until 1507, when he settled in Madrid, where he worked as a notary public. He was commissioned by Ferdinand the Catholic to draw up a list of all the news relating to the kings of Spain, a work that did not end since in 1513 he was appointed "overseer of the gold foundries and general notary public" and in 1514 he became part of the expedition ofPedrarias Dávila to Darién as royal official.

He made six trips to American lands. There he had full contact with the indigenous population and with the conquistadors who had arrived from the Peninsula, which allowed him to accumulate a great number of news and data that have become invaluable pieces for the study of the American reality during the early days of the conquest.

His works and writings are of a historical and scientific nature (all of them written in Spanish), with the exception of a cavalry novel, Don Claribalte (1519). The one that brought more fame to its author was the Sumario de la natural y general hystoria de las Indias, published in Toledo by R. de Petras in 1526. It is an authentic synthesis of the natural history of the Indies that begins with a study of the nature of the newly discovered lands. This work was written to offer King Charles I precise news of the most relevant things of the newly discovered lands incorporated into his crown.

Another of his great works is the Historia General de las Indias, (General History of the Indies), divided into fifty books and in whose prologue he defends the management of the conquerors while attacking the malice of the Indians, even considering the conquest as a punishment from God to the American race, which confronted him on several occasions with Friar Bartolomé de las Casas. The first part of this last work was published in 1535 in Seville by Juan Cromberger, and was not published in its entirety until 1851-1855.

He also wrote some minor texts such as Libro de la Cámara Real del Príncipe don Juan, e officios de su casa y servicio ordinario,which according to Amador de los Ríos was the best and most complete treatise of the history of Spain and its relations with other states of Europe of all those composed in the 16th century. Other of these minor writings were Batallas e Quincuagenas, Relación de lo sucedido en la prisión del rey de Francia y Regla de la vida espiritual y secreta Theologia.

Retrato de Nicolás Monardes.12. Nicolás Monardes (1493-1588). Polygraph in the broadest sense of the word.

His influence was enormous throughout Europe, as he and some other scientists from his Seville circle were the first to experiment with all kinds of new plants, some of which later became food and others with rare properties that were inexplicable at the time, such as chocolate, tobacco, potatoes and tomatoes, among many others.

In particular, Monardes narrated how heating a certain mineral produced a strange blue luminosity that we now know was none other than the fluorescent effect. Like many other discoveries of the time, they are scarcely attested to by the official history of the advance of knowledge, to such an extent that Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton himself took an interest in this phenomenon that they considered inexplicable.

Portada de Colóquios dos simples e drogas…13. García de Orta (ca. 1499-1568). A doctor, botanist and pharmacist, descendant of expelled Jews, García Abraham de Orta, an authentic Renaissance man, studied Medicine, Art and Natural Philosophy at the Spanish universities of Alcalá de Henares and Salamanca.

In 1534 he emigrated to the East Indies, where he began to practice his profession; there he was able to describe Asian cholera and became a true eminence in the field of simple medicine (based on the use of plants) and medicinal drugs in India.

As for his work, it is mainly written in Portuguese, an extraordinary fact for the scientific treatises of the time, although he also left works in Spanish, Hebrew, Latin, Arabic and Greek.

His great work is Colóquios dos simples e drogas e cousas medicinais da Índia, a true medical and botanical encyclopaedia of great richness in ethnological and ethnographic details that was printed in Goa in 1563. A work of fundamental character for the construction and circulation of medical and botanical knowledge in Asia in the 16th century. It begins by examining the combined importance of India's medical experience and testimony. Next, we will examine the importance of the interaction and exchange of medical systems between the West and the East.

The Latin and abridged version of this work was published in 1567 by the same doctor and botanist Charles de l'Escluse under the title Aromatum et simplicium aliquot medicamentorum apud indios nascentium historia. In general, Orta and his Coloquios tend to be mentioned briefly in the context of Charles de l'Escluse studies and, while it is true that this was crucial for the dissemination of Orta's knowledge, the great reputation of the Dutch naturalist has also contributed to the excess of scientific literature about him overshadowing García de Orta as a precursor of modern botany and medicine.

Grabado. Retrato de Andrés Laguna de Segovia14. Andrés Laguna de Segovia (1499-1559). After studying two years of arts in Salamanca, he moved to Paris in 1530, where he graduated in arts and studied medicine. He also trained in classical languages with prestigious Hellenists and Latinists. He was a humanist physician, especially dedicated to pharmacology and medical botany.

Laguna still considered the theory of the four humours to be valid, but he was sceptical about alchemy, rejecting any statement that did not have empirical confirmation. Despite this, it included information sometimes not first-hand, on American products, such as the anti-syphilitic guayaco, sometimes in a very confusing way. In that sense it is not a direct source as is the work of a Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo.

The importance for the 16th century European pharmacopoeia regarding the knowledge of De materia médica, by Dioscorides, first with very careful editions, restoring the original text due to an increasing number of humanistic impressions in view of new manuscripts, and with more philological criteria, such as the one supervised by Antonio de Nebrija, and then with the translations, because they contain adaptations, inserts, comments that enrich the book. This is the case with the translation by Andrés Laguna, entitled Pedazio Dioscorides Anazarbeo acerca de la materia medicinal y de los venenos mortíferos, y su ilustración con figuras de innumerables plantas exquisitas y raras, whose comments and additions doubled the original text.

The work, structured in two volumes and six books, has, on the one hand, the original writing of Pedacio Dioscórides Anarzabeo and, together with this, the comments of Dr. Laguna. The work has many illustrations and is divided as follows: Volume 1 includes the first and second books of the "Colectanea" on the subject of medicines. Volume 2 refers to the third, fourth, fifth and sixth books of the "Colectanea". Laguna included American plants: such as Indian pepper, balsam, Indian coconut, storaque, guayaco, sarsaparilla, corn, phasiolos and turquoise phasiolos, pumpkin, cochineal, the nopal.[16]

Many references to this corrected and augmented edition of Pedacio Dioscorides' work point to the inclusion of simple Americanisms. A more careful reading of the work shows that they were not as many as could have been possible, especially in view of the works already published by Fernández de Oviedo and Nicolás de Monardes. In this sense, the detailed work of the great Spanish pharmacologist Teófilo Hernando who analyses the American plants that Laguna introduced one by one, and whose text is now unbeatable, stands out.

Retrato de Cristóbal de Acosta. Grabado.15. Cristóbal de Acosta (ca. 1515-ca. 1592). Doctor and naturalist, considered a pioneer in the study of oriental plants, especially for use in pharmacology. He had studied arts and medicine at a Spanish university, probably in Salamanca. He was, together withTomé Pires (1465?-1524 or 1540) and with García de Orta (ca. 1501-1568), the greatest exponent of Indo-Portuguese medicine.

He was in India for the first time in the fifties, where he participated as a soldier in several military actions and met García de Orta, the great scholar of oriental medical matters. In 1568 he returned to India again as a doctor to Louis Ataide, his former captain, who had been appointed viceroy. He arrived in Goa a few months after Orta's death. He worked as a doctor at the Royal Hospital of Cochín and travelled through various areas of India and East Asia until the viceroy rule of Ataide ended in 1572.

On his return to the peninsula he ended up settling in Burgos, where he remained from 1576 to 1587, first as a surgeon and then as a doctor hired by the Municipality. In 1578 he published Tractado de las drogas y medicinas de las Indias Orientales, which he dedicated to the city. Acosta widely acknowledges García de Orta's merits and his debt to him. In this work he studies a total of 69 medicinal plants and drugs that García de Orta had not mentioned. Most of them offer a wide synonymy in the peninsular languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan and Basque), in the most important languages of Western Europe (Italian, French, English, German and Flemish) and in several languages of the Far and Near East.

The descriptions are very detailed, as are the hand-drawn figures, which were the first to be published in Europe on East Asian plants. It also takes care of the places of origin of each plant or drug, their collection and preservation, as well as their possible adulterations. The book includes a curious study on the elephant, which associates picturesque ideas of classical or medieval origin.

The dissemination of the Acosta’s Tractado was very vast. The Latin translation, summarised and with comments by Charles de l'Escluse or Clusius, appeared four years after the original Spanish edition and was reprinted several times. An Italian translation appeared in 1585 and a little later a French one.

In 1592, Acosta published two volumes on moral and religious issues: el Tratado en loor de las mugeres y el Tratado en contra, y pro de la vida solitaria. Con otros dos tratados, uno de La Religión y Religioso. Otro contra los hombres que mal viven. Llenos de mucha doctrina, y exemplo. On the contrary, his materials on "herbs, plants, fruits, birds and animals, as well as watery lands which there are in those parts [of India], and in Persia, and in China" remained unpublished, which he planned to set out in a wider and more systematic work than his Tractado of 1578.[17]

Lámina con una Hernandia Moerenhoutiana dibujada.16. Francisco Hernández (1517-1587). He was born in the Toledo town of La Puebla de Montalbán and after studying Medicine at the University of Alcalá he practised his profession in Torrijos and in the hospitals of the Monastery of Guadalupe, where he dissected corpses.

Hernandez rubbed shoulders with the greatest intellectuals of the time, scientific or not. Among his friends are personalities of high scientific, technical and artistic level: Andrés Vesalio (1514-1565), Juanelo Turriano (1500-1585), Juan de Herrera (ca. 1530-1597) or Benito Arias Montano (1527-1598).

He translated and commented on Historia natural by Plinio el Viejo, where he is shown to us as an authentic Renaissance sage who obviously knew about medicine, but also botany, zoology, mineralogy, geology, cosmography, classical languages, etc. Furthermore, as a modern scientist that he was, he disputes the supposedly infallible authority of the sages of antiquity. Perhaps because of all this, the Spanish monarch chose La Puebla as the director of the expedition that was to study the nature of New Spain.

Hernandez described 230 species of birds, but the lack of illustrations, which were lost, makes their identification very difficult. Hernández systematically cited the names in Nahuatl from which it is possible to classify birds in his work Rerum medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus, seu Plantarum, Animalium, Mineralium Mexicanorum Historia cum notis Joannis Terentii Lineæi[Treasure of the Medical Things of New Spain or of the Plants, Animals and Minerals of the Mexicans...]. Hernandez died without seeing his work published. It was in 1648 when the edition was completed thanks to the efforts of the ambassador of Philip IV in Italy, Alfonso Turriano.

Father John Eusebio Nieremberg used Hernandez's drawings in preparing his work Historia Naturae Maxime Peregrine (History of Nature in Extreme Pilgrimage), published in Antwerp in 1635.

But it was not until 1790 when the great work of Hernandez entitled Francisci Hernandi... Opera cum edita, tum inedita, ad autographi fidem et integritatem expressa [By Francisco Hernández.... works, both edited and unpublished, taken in their entirety and in accordance with what the author has written] was published in Madrid, but it does not include all his works either. The first edition of his work, by the Accademia dei Lincei, had to overcome the stumbling block of Galileo himself, who belonged to that institution, and who did not believe such discoveries possible.

Retrato de Arias Montano.17. Benito Arias Montano (1527-1598). Humanist, scholar of Hebrew, biologist and Spanish polyglot writer. He studied at the Universities of Seville (1546) and Alcalá (1548). Later, in León, he was ordained a priest. Philip II sent him to Antwerp as director of the new edition of the Polyglot Bible and appointed him professor of oriental languages at the Monastery of El Escorial.

From the scientific point of view, Arias Montano's work is significant in three respects: in his work at the Escurialense Library, in his work as a cog in the wheel between the intellectual world of Flanders and Spain and in his work on scientific subjects.

His biological facet in the last years of his life should be mentioned when he created the project of writing a study of the Bible in relation to the natural sciences. It is his work Naturae Historia, prima in magni operis corpore pars, where he innovates when it comes to establishing the biological classification, since he moves away from biblical classification, which divides animals into aquatic, flying and land animals, establishing analogies and differences between different groups of zoological species, and what is more important, highlighting the morphological characteristics that today seem most significant. The edition is actually from Antwerp, printed by Plantino and Moreto in 1601.

Portada del Tratado del descubrimiento de las Yndias 18. Juan Suárez de Peralta (1537 – 1592). The son of one of Hernán Cortés' best friends, Suárez left us one of the few stories about New Spain and its historical background written under the special perspective of a Creole.

His work Tratado del descubrimiento de las Yndias (1589) is a living history, since it not only provides valuable information about his time but also recreates the air, the peculiar atmosphere of that entirely new society that emerged shortly after the conquest.. One of the most important parts refers to the Mexican events of which the author was a witness and an actor. Here, the narration is elevated when it deals with purely Creole subjects: daily life, customs and coexistence with the Indians, the political events he lived through and the formation of the Hispanic-Mexican character.

19. José de Acosta (1540-1600). He entered the Society of Jesus to serve. He studied Theology in Ocaña.

In 1569, he was sent to the Peruvian city of Lima. He participated in the foundation of some Universities, such as those of Chuquisaca, Potosí, Panama and La Paz. His duties as a religious member obliged him to travel throughout much of the territory, which allowed him to acquire a great knowledge of both the region and its inhabitants.

Portada de Historia natural y moral de las Indias.His works were highly praised by the naturalists of the 18th century for his extensive and profound knowledge of the flora of South West America. Among them are De Natura Novi Orbis, De promulgatione Evangelii apud Barbaros, De Procuranda Indorum salute and very especially, Historia natural y moral de las Indias, whose complete title is Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias. En que se tratan las Cosas notables del Cielo y elementos, metales, plantas y animales de ellas y los ritos, ceremonias, leyes y gobierno y guerras de los indios.

His work was quickly translated into many languages, including English, having a considerable impact on British scientists. Robert Boyle in particular, quotes him with great praise, calling him "most wise" in one of the fundamental works of all times: El químico escéptico[18]. Both Newton and Boyle were amazed at the discovery of fluorescence, which they could not explain, by Monardes and disseminated by Acosta.

There are ten Spanish editions, but their translations into Italian, French, German, English, Dutch and even Latin have made this work one of the most popular and widely known in Europe of those written in the 16th century on the New World. But, in addition, his open and scientific mentality makes him observe in detail the geography and nature of the New Continent, of which he gave good account in his works on the American nature De Natura Novi Orbis and De Procuranda Indorum salute, a compendium of geography, natural philosophy, botany and zoology.

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), one of the most relevant scientific personalities in history, took the descriptive system of the Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias as a basis for the elaboration of his ideas and used it for the creation of his most important work: Cosmos.


Reproducción de una página de la Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, de fray Bernardino de Sahagún.The essence of the anthropological research method was conceived and practised spontaneously by Friar Bernardino de Sahagún. The result of this is the hundreds of folios in Nahuatl that preserve the purely indigenous vision of what the ancient culture had been, as well as their survival.

As Miguel León Portilla points out, in order to understand the true meaning of what Friar Bernardino de Sahagún tried to achieve and accomplished, it is necessary to distinguish between what corresponds to the method and to the creation of the plan followed by him and what corresponds to the form in which it was carried out, with the results that we know and that continue to be the object of study. In pursuit of an eminently practical goal, “ the Christian acculturation" of the Indians, Sahagún did not restrict the field of his research but rather, in an integral plan, as he himself indicates, he dealt with "the divine things, or rather, idolatrous and human and natural things of this New Spain".

With a method that is still scientific and modern today, a true example of comprehensive anthropological research, he dedicated many years of his long life to seeking information based on indigenous paintings or codices, collecting the testimony of old Indians who knew all the fundamental points of culture, both intellectual and material, of the Nahuas.

He was clearly aware that in order to introduce processes of change in a human group it is essential to start from the most complete research possible of its diverse institutions and cultural patterns, of its background and historical evolution and also of the environment in which it has developed, with special emphasis on its resources and possibilities.

In this plan, aware of the interdependence of the various cultural factors and elements, he included the most diverse points related to the life of the Nahua peoples, from the natural environment in which they lived and their historical antecedents, to the subtleties of their art and thought, without excluding the study of the vision that the defeated peoples had of the conquest. In order to do this, he formed, as the best anthropologist would do now, a solidly prepared team of men who possessed the indispensable key of the native language to get directly to the heart of what they were trying to investigate. With this team he set up what we would call today intense fieldwork. This work included the study of the indigenous past, the approach to the survivors of the ancient culture and, above all, the search for informants capable of making known what life had been like in the days prior to the conquest.

With this criterion, he put himself in direct contact with the human and cultural reality of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples, in search of a firm foundation that would allow them to channel without violence the processes of change and acculturation that, since the conquest, were inevitably affecting the indigenous populations. Only by knowing their language, their mentality and their way of being would it be possible to bring the Christian message to them, the main objective of the friars' action, in their own cultural context.

The school of the disciples and translators of Sahagún meant a renewal in the new world of something very similar to what the famous schools of translators of Toledo had been. Since the end of the eleventh century, Arab and Jewish translators, working together with lawyers and scholars, had made it possible to bring the Hispanic and European conscience closer to texts and works preserved in Arabic, many of them classics of the ancient world that had hitherto been almost unknown to Western thought. What took place in Toledo when these texts were rescued was repeated, preserving all proportion, in the atmosphere of New Spain, thanks to the effort and the very broad humanist criteria of Bernardino de Sahagún, who, with his trilingual team, also saved from oblivion not only the annals and historical traditions, literature and medical knowledge, but also the ancient vision of the world and the highest thinking of these other creators of culture.

From this very rich mine come numerous texts that have made a deeper and more direct understanding of the various pre-Hispanic institutions possible, such as their literature, in particular their poetry and history, their conception of the world, the meaning they gave to their artistic creations, and in a word, the integral vision of what life and thought was like in the central region of Mexico before the clash of cultures that gave birth, centuries later, to the modern Mexican nation.

The authors who have been selected for this section also refer to their bibliographic record in this virtual library and are the following:

Retrato de Fray Toribio de Benavente, Motolinía.20. Friar Toribio de Benavente (1482–1569). Franciscan missionary and historian of New Spain.

He was characterised as an advocate for indigenous rights. Better known by the nickname Motolinía, a word that means poor or unfortunate in Nahuatl, whose etymology comes from mo (is), and tolinia (poor/afflict), that is, "he who is poor or afflicts himself"..

Three parts of his work are known: the first part deals with his arrival as a missionary in New Spain and the Aztec religion, the second part deals with Christian conversion and the way in which the natives celebrated the feasts of the church and the third part describes the idiosyncrasies of the natives, as well as the geography, flora, fauna and the main cities of New Spain.

 As explained before, it seems that Historia de los Indios de la Nueva España is a compilation of Memorials with some differences or the same but in a retouched version. Both are prefaced with a dedication to Don Antonio Pimentel, Count of Benavente, the native land of Motolinía, called the "Proemial Epistle" but the Epistle of Memorials differs slightly from that of the History of the Indians.

Motolinía's works, especially the Memoriales y La Historia de los Indios de la Nueva España, reflect his high cultural background; he knew a great deal about humanities and philosophy. Another key factor was that, by understanding Nahuatl and decipheringcodices, he obtained first-hand information from the indigenous people who told him about the Aztec culture, either orally or in writing. Friar Bernardino de Sahagún acknowledged and assured that Motolinía was very a "competently learned man.” Friar Jerónimo de Mendieta said Motolinia was the most travelled.

The work is such that even modern historians when dealing with the New Spain inevitably have to consult the work of Toribio de Benavente. He was ahead of his time as one of the pioneers for the rights of those most in need. Paradoxically, the "poor man" bequeathed a rich cultural heritage.

Portada de Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España21. Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1496–1584). Spanish conqueror and chronicler of the Indies.

Spanish conqueror and chronicler of the Indies. He went to the Indies as a soldier for Pedrarias Dávila and then settled in Cuba. He took part in the three great expeditions that, on New Spain, departed from that island: the one of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba in 1517 in which Yucatán was discovered; the one of Juan de Grijalva in 1518 to explore Yucatán and that reached the province of Pánuco; and the one of Hernando Cortés, in 1519.

All of this is reflected in his great work entitled Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva España, which is of great value because it describes the many events that took place during this undertaking. Spanish and indigenous characters parade through this work and the atmosphere surrounding each of the actions undertaken is perfectly described, from the first contacts with the natives to the great expeditions through Central America, passing through the battles in Tabasco and Tenochtitlán and the trip of Cortés to the Hibueras.

[...] We discovered lands of great populations and houses of lime and sandstone, and great worshippers of their idols; and the natural people of them had clothes of cotton garments and arable cornfields. And their very strong, brave warriors, with their flags, and drums, and brought cotton armour that went down to the knees, and spears, and round shields, and bows and arrows, and batons and swords, knives that seemed two handed, and deep, and a lot of stone.

He participated in a multitude of events of the Conquest, not only in what is now Mexico, but also in countries such as Guatemala and Honduras. He was ‘encomendero’ (messenger) of Chamula and Micapa, in the province of Chiapas, as well as of Teapa, in the province of Tabasco. He lived for a time in the village of the Holy Spirit where he was Regidor.

Retrato de fray Bernanrdino de Sahagún.22. Bernardino de Sahagún is the name adopted by Bernardino de Rivera, Ribera or Ribeira (1499-1590) when he became a Franciscan friar. He was the author of a number of works in Nahuatl and Spanish considered today among the most valuable documents for the reconstruction of the history of ancient Mexico before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors.

Due to his method of work, based on the collection of testimonies from the elderly, detailed analysis, and bilingual compilation (Nahuatl-Spanish), and for the results he obtained in researching the culture of ancient Mexicans, scholars such as or Garibay and Leon-Portilla have considered him the first anthropologist in the Americas.

The result of all this is theHistoria general de las cosas de Nueva España, a work consisting of 12 books and arranged in three parallel columns: for Spanish, for Nahuatl and for notes, sources and commentaries and their importance in the anthropological, linguistic and literary field, which is recognised by all.

El ethnologist Miguel Acosta Saignes states: "Sahagún was a great precursor of ethnography.... With an irreproachable method, which centuries later would make ethnography his own, Sahagún prepared a synopsis of the work he proposed, in order to collect the necessary material according to it. He consulted informants, whom he considered absolutely suitable, and subjected the material collected and elaborated to successive improvements until he considered his efforts to be sufficient. Desiring not to disregard the truth and so that everyone could in the future judge on his compliance, he wrote down the circumstances in which he collected reports, the names and knowledge of those who worked with him and the reviews to which he had to submit the Historia".

He was the creator of a more rigorous method of scientific research, and is therefore considered the father of American ethnothorical and social research. He managed to gather an extraordinary arsenal of news related to the Mexican culture from the mouth of his informants. His anthropological conception, based on the division of deep medieval tradition into three categories: the divine, the human and the worldly, is reflected in all Sahagún's work. Hence, there is a close relationship in the way he conceives and writes his Historia with the work of, for example, Bartholomeus Anglicus entitled De propietatibus rerum... en romance (Toledo, 1529), a book in vogue at the time, as well as with the works of Plinio and Elder Alberto el Magno.

Retrato de Francisco Cervantes de Salazar.23. Francisco Cervantes de Salazar (1514?-1575).  Great humanist and lawyer. He studied at the University of Salamanca and was a lecturer at the University of Osuna (1546). He travelled to Mexico in 1551, being named rector at his university. He died when he was canon of the Cathedral of Mexico.

He was a founding member of the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico, where he was a professor for several years and became its rector in 1567.

Author of México en 1554: Tres diálogos latinos, a work in which he praised the outskirts of Mexico and, in particular, the surrounding Indian populations, composed a  Crónica de la Nueva España of great anthropological value for its data on indigenous cultures and their historical value, which provides information on the conquest of Hernán Cortés whom he knew personally, was inspired by the Cartas de relación by the latter in the Historia general de las Indias by López de Gómara  and in his previous work on the same subject Túmulo imperial de la gran Ciudad de México,  as well as in numerous letters crossed between the conquerors, the king and the Council of the Indies; he also translated and widely provided commentaries for Luis Vives.

Portada de Crónica del Perú, de Pedro Cieza de León.24. Pedro Cieza de León (1518-1554). He came to America, in his own words, "At the age of thirteen". He carried out numerous activities, such as expeditions, foundations, government orders, which can be summarised chronologically. In 1536 and 1537, the Expedition to San Sebastián de Buenavista and Urute together with Alonso de Cáceres.

In 1539 he participated in the foundation of Santa Ana de los Caballeros (Anserma, Colombia), together with Jorge Robledo; in 1540, in the foundation of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia); and in 1541, in the foundation of Antioquia (Colombia) Later he took possession of a commission granted by Sebastián de Belalcázar.

In 1547, together with Pedro de La Gasca, he began a trip to Peruvian lands on a peacemaking mission, and in 1548 he began a trip to the City of the Kings (now Lima). It is precisely there that he began his career as an official writer and chronicler of the New World. During the following two years he toured the territories of Peru gathering interesting information with which he could carry out his work.

Cieza de León belongs, due to his attention to nature, to a group of "Indian chroniclers" between the real naturalists such as Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo or José de Acosta and the authors who limited themselves to recounting events or describing customs. His work is therefore devoted to historical narrative, but with a considerable interest in natural things.

He was rightly called the "chief chronicler of the Indies". The material collected is characterised by its wide coverage and reliability; in fact, it represents the first encyclopaedia on the history, geography, botany and zoology of South America. Thanks to him, the first news about animals such as the puma, jaguar, alpaca, llama or possum, or about vegetables such as pineapple or avocado arrived in Europe.

In his books he describes the diversity of indigenous ethnic groups and their languages. His manuscripts, due to their detailed information, were the basis of most of his last historical works on the Incas.

He wrote a Crónica del Perú (Chronicle of Peru) in three parts, of which only the first was published during the author's lifetime, the other two remaining unpublished until the 19th and 20th centuries respectively. The first part is an exhibition of the geography, natural history and ethnography of the territory that extends from Cartagena de Indias to the northern part of present-day Chile. The particular value is that it comes, for the most part, from direct observation.  The second part contains the chronicle of the empire of the Incas in Peru, that is to say, of the Yupanguei Incas and their great deeds and government. And the third part deals with Peru's civil wars and is the most extensive of all.

Retrato de Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas.25. Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas (1549-1626) Chronicler Author of the Historia general de los hechos de los castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme del mar Océano que llaman Indias Occidentales, known as Décadas and considered one of the best written works on the conquest of America.

The historiographic school culminated with the Descripción de las Indias Occidentales By Herrera - which had begun with the use of the diary of Columbus' first voyage—  consisting of composing new works from various chronicles, nautical treatises and other manuals, such as the work of Martín Fernández de Enciso, the manuscripts of Alonso de Chaves and Alonso de Santa Cruz, and that of Juan López de Velasco, in addition to an extensive cartography; all of them were the sources that Herrera used to compose his work and to include fourteen maps of America and the Far East in it.

It was common in the new editions of his Décadas to include his Descripcion as a part of the work, although it was sometimes published independently, translated into English, French, German and Latin.

* * *

Retrato fotográfico de Rey PastorJulio Rey Pastor who, due to his mathematical and scientific training, was qualified to do so, was the first historian of science who was able to give an informed opinion on science and technology in the American venture, an opinion that is still valid today, almost a century after its publication:

Very rudimentary science and technology, no doubt, from our present point of view, were used by the discoverers of new routes and new worlds, as the physical hypotheses used by our engineers to calculate their structures and our current ideas about cancer will seem rudimentary to future generations. It is precisely this dramatic disproportion between the insignificance of the means and the grandiosity of the results that makes the value of those who achieved them stand out most impressively.[19]

The disproportion between Spaniards and Indians has sometimes served to justify the outcome of the unequal encounter in the American lands. But don't forget that on a date such as the Battle of Bicoca in 1522 - rigorously contemporary with the conquest of Cortés - between the French and the Spanish, a prelude to that of Pavia, the result was as overwhelming as the Aztecs experienced.

Indeed, the defeat of the French was so absolute, without a single casualty among the Spanish, that the word "bicoca" has become proverbial. Not in vain did the French themselves, through the mouth of Rabelais in his Pantagruel, lament the magnitude of their defeat based, as in the case of the Indians, on the difference not only in the armament between the two armies but also in the tactical and strategic design.

Universities founded by Spain

From a contemporary point of view, nothing is more revealing than the founding dates of the Universities that were created in America as the process of discovery and Evangelization unfolded, especially if one remembers the date of the founding of Harvard University in 1636.

Fotografía del Convento de los Dominicos, en Santo Domingo, donde se fundó la Universidad Santo Tomás de Aquino en 1538.

The Universities founded by Spain in the colonies in the period were the following:

1538: Royal and Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

1551: Royal and Pontifical University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru.

1551: Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico.

1552: Royal University of La Plata in Sucre, Bolivia.

1558: Royal and Pontifical University of Santiago de la Paz and Gorjón in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

1580: Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Bogotá, Colombia.

1586: University of San Fulgencio in Quito, Ecuador.

1594: University of San Luis in Ecuador.

1595: University of San Carlos in Cebu, Philippines.

1608: Pontifical University of San Ildefonso in Lima, Peru.

1611: Pontifical and Royal University of St. Thomas in Manila, Philippines.

1613: University of Cordoba in Argentina.

1619: Pontifical University of Santo Tomás de Aquino in Santiago, Chile.

1621: Pontifical University of San Ignacio de Loyola in Cuzco, Peru

1621: University of San Miguel, in Santiago, Chile.

1621: Pontifical University of St. Francis Xavier in Bogotá, Colombia.

1622: University of San Gregorio Magno in Quito, Ecuador.

1624: Royal and Pontifical University of San Francisco Javier in Sucre, Bolivia.

1624: Royal and Pontifical University of Merida of Yucatan in Mexico.

1653: Our Lady of the Rosary University in Bogotá, Colombia.

1676: Royal University of San Carlos Borromeo in Guatemala.

1677: University of San Cristobal in Huamanga, Peru.

1681 and refounded in 1786: Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomás de Aquino in Quito, Ecuador.

1692: Royal University of San Antonio Abad in Cuzco, Peru.


[*] Harrison, John: The Library of Isaac Newton. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2008. 308 pages
ISBN-10: 052110145X
ISBN-13: 978-0521101455

[1] The nautical astronomy is Iberian and its origin is in the Portuguese Regimientos de navegación; it resulted from the collaboration of Abraham Zacuto with the nautical ones of the Board of Mathematicians of Lisbon and, especially, with José Visinho: it is an application of the Greek-Caribbean doctrines contained in the work of Alfonso X.

[2] Sábato, Ernesto: Uno y el Universo. 1945

[3] Fresquet Ferrer, José Luis: “Los inicios de la asimilación de la materia médica americana por la terapéutica europea”."The beginnings of the assimilation of the American medical field by European therapeutics".  In: Viejo y nuevo continente : la medicina en el encuentro de dos mundos / coordinator, José M. López Piñero. — Madrid: Saned, 1992, pp: 281-307.

[4] López Piñero, José María: "The first scientific studies on the subject of American medicine: The medical history of Nicolás de Monardes and the expedition of Francisco Hernández to New Spain". In Viejo y nuevo continente : la medicina en el encuentro de dos mundos / coordinator, José M. López Piñero. — Madrid : Saned, 1992

[5] A first important fact is the inclusion of Copernicus' work in the bylaws of the University of Salamanca in 1531, although the possibility of using Copernicus' text in teaching was not fulfilled.

[6] López Piñero, José María

El arte de navegar en la España del renacimiento (Teoría y técnica del arte español de navegar del siglo XVI) [print] / [by] José María López Piñero. Barcelona: Labor, imp. 1979.

[7] López Piñero, José María, 1933-2010

El arte de navegar en la España del renacimiento (Teoría y técnica del arte español de navegar del siglo XVI)  / José María López Piñero. — [2nd ed.]. — Barcelona : Labor, 1986 : 285 p. : il. col. y n. ; 31 cm : Bibliography: p. 273-277 : DL B 33209-1986. — ISBN 84-335-0029-5

[8] Also very interesting is the news that he had the opportunity to provide to Fernández de Oviedo about the Pacific islands and more specifically about the Philippine Archipelago.

[9] Pedro Nunes (1502-1578) : his lost algebra and other discoveries / edited and translated by John R.C. Martyn. — New York: P. Lang, c1996

[10] Santa Cruz, Alonso de, 1505-1567

Alonso de Santa Cruz and his cosmographic work [Printed Text] /[Edition of] M. Cuesta Domingo. — Madrid : Institute "Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo", D.L. 1983- D.L. 1984

2 v. : il. ; 25 cm. — (Tierra nueva e cielo nuevo; 8, 13)

[11] Pardo Tomás, José

Un lugar para la ciencia : escenarios de práctica científica en la sociedad hispana del siglo XVI / José Pardo Tomás. — La Orotava: Oratova Canary Islands Foundation for the History of Science, 2006 :

112 p. : il. ; 25 cm.

[12] Montucla, J. E. (1799-1802): Histoire des Mathèmatiques, 4 vols, Paris, t. II, p. 167

[13] Pemberton, Henry (1694-1771) View of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy. London: S. Palmer, 1728.

[14] Pardo Tomás, José

The Natural Treasure of America[Print] : Oviedo, Monardes, Hernández : colonialism and science in the 16th century / José Pardo Tomás; prologue by José María López Piñero. Tres Cantos : Nivola, 2002.

[15] Somolinos d'Ardois G. Chapters of Mexican medical history II. Mexico, 1979, pp. 148-149


[17] -  Text completely reproduced in the entry of Cristóbal Acosta en el Diccionario Histórico de la Ciencia Moderna en España. Volume I. Barcelona : Ediciones Península, 1983. Pages 21-22 by José M. López Piñero, F.Glick Thomas, Víctor Navarro Brotóns and Eugenio Portela Marco

[18] It may indeed be objected, that the reason why from Gold or Silver we cannot separate any moisture, is, because that when it is melted out of the Oare, the vehement Fire requisite to its Fusion forcd away all the aqueous and fugitive moisture; and the like fire may do from the materials of Glass. To which I shall Answer, that I Remember I read not long since in the Learned Josephus Acosta who relates it upon his own observation; that in America, (where he long lived) there is a kind of Silver which the Indians call Papas, and sometimes (sayes he) they find pieces very fine and pure like to small round roots, the which is rare in that metal, but usuall in Gold; Concerning which metal he tells us, that besides this they find some which they call Gold in grains, which he tells us are small morsels of Gold that they find whole without mixture of any other metal, which hath no need of melting or Refining in the fire.(Boyle, Robert: The Sceptical Chymist or Chymico-Physical Doubts & Paradoxes,... London: Printed by J. Cadwell for J. Crooke, and are to be Sold at the Ship in St. Paul’s Church-Yard,1661. pp.371.)

[19] Rey Pastor, Julio, 1888-1962

La ciencia y la técnica en el descubrimiento de América [Print]. — 4th ed. — Madrid : Espasa-Calpe, [1970]

149 p. : grab. ; 18 cm. — (Colección Austral ; v. 301)