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Science in Latin America

Science in Latin America
A History
Translated by Bernabé Madrigal

Eleven leading Latin American historians provide the first comprehensive overview of the history of science in Latin America from the sixteenth century to the present.

December 2006
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
264 pages | 6 x 9 |

Science in Latin America has roots that reach back to the information gathering and recording practices of the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations. Spanish and Portuguese conquerors and colonists introduced European scientific practices to the continent, where they hybridized with local traditions to form the beginnings of a truly Latin American science. As countries achieved their independence in the nineteenth century, they turned to science as a vehicle for modernizing education and forwarding "progress." In the twentieth century, science and technology became as omnipresent in Latin America as in the United States and Europe. Yet despite a history that stretches across five centuries, science in Latin America has traditionally been viewed as derivative of and peripheral to Euro-American science.

To correct that mistaken view, this book provides the first comprehensive overview of the history of science in Latin America from the sixteenth century to the present. Eleven leading Latin American historians assess the part that science played in Latin American society during the colonial, independence, national, and modern eras, investigating science's role in such areas as natural history, medicine and public health, the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, politics and nation-building, educational reform, and contemporary academic research. The comparative approach of the essays creates a continent-spanning picture of Latin American science that clearly establishes its autonomous history and its right to be studied within a Latin American context.

  • Introduction: The Latin American Scientific Theater (Juan José Saldaña)
  • 1. Natural History and Herbal Medicine in Sixteenth-century America (Xavier Lozoya)
  • 2. Science and Public Happiness during the Latin American Enlightenment (Juan José Saldaña)
  • 3. Modern Scientific Thought in Santa Fe, Quito, and Caracas, 1736-1803 (Luis Carlos Arboleda and Diana Soto Arango)
  • 4. Scientific Traditions and Enlightenment Expeditions in Eighteenth-century Hispanic America (Antonio Lafuente and Leoncio López-Ocón)
  • 5. Science and Freedom: Science and Technology as a Policy of the New American States (Juan José Saldaña)
  • 6. Scientific Medicine and Public Health in Nineteenth-century Latin America (Emilio Quevedo and Francisco Gutiérrez)
  • 7. Academic Science in Twentieth-century Latin America (Hebe M. C. Vessuri)
  • 8. Excellence in Twentieth-century Biomedical Science (Marcos Cueto)
  • 9. International Politics and the Development of the Exact Sciences in Latin America (Regis Cabral)

Juan José Saldaña is Professor of the History of Science at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City.


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This volume collects for the first time a history of science as a whole in the geographical and cultural region known as Latin America. The authors are historians of science and discuss, among other issues, what, at different moments and under different circumstances, has been understood as science in Latin America, the forms scientific activity has taken, the settings responsible for the autochthonous peculiarities of science in the region, and the adoption of European science and its evolution in Latin America. This is a local history of how geographical accidents, individuals and groups of individuals, institutions, ideologies, concepts, and scientific theories affect one another in a specific social and cultural context.

This social history of science by no means scorns the intellectual aspects of science. On the contrary, it helps us understand the nature and behavior of social groups (the scientists) that created, developed, or incorporated concepts and theories in a particular social context and always as a consequence of it. Equal attention is paid to the general aspects of society and regional geography (the social order, culture, natural resources, geographical location, etc.) that are responsible for attitudes toward science and that have imposed a particular style on it. The authors in this volume use new analytical perspectives (forms of approaching the history of science) and offer a novel image of the Latin American scientific past.

Why has no such history been written before? Have we not had, for centuries, the most varied testimony that original experiments in science and technique were developed on this section of the planet? In addition, in practically the whole of Latin America, there have been significant efforts to record the history of moments, people, institutions, achievements, and other aspects of the scientific activity that has taken place there. There have even been histories that present science as formulating an entire national vision. Nevertheless, it apparently has not been understood that science is one of many shared threads that will surely continue to tie together even more tightly the framework of Latin American history. Science, by being intertwined with other aspects of social and cultural life, has been the cause as well as the effect of important regional historical events and is viewed as such in the chapters that make up this book. Certainly, there are also national differences to be taken into account, dating back many centuries and developed in unequal circumstances.

The premise of the authors of the studies gathered here is that Latin America is a region. In the American geography of science, nontrivial aspects can be distinguished by understanding their nature and organization, since they are what makes this region different from others. Topographic relief, the nature of the terrain, the climate, the wide diversity of flora and fauna in some areas, the types of mineral deposits, and so on, create very defined and characteristic geographical areas, such as the Amazon region, the Mesoamerican lowlands, the Andean and Mexican highlands. The cultural and scientific patterns in the region depend on these material conditions. Clear examples include Amerindian science and technology (herbalism, astronomy, agricultural techniques, medicine) and natural history from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries (botany, zoology, paleontology, mineralogy), as will be seen.

Likewise, characteristic collective features have sprung up throughout the historical dynamics of the region. Examples include highly developed autochthonous cultures and civilizations in the Andes and in Mesoamerica, which imposed, and still impose, particular features on those regions' social life. This circumstance determined, for instance, the European conquerors' decision to establish their main viceroyalties in Peru and Mexico—places where socially, politically, and culturally advanced societies already existed. In contrast, the Anglo-Saxon colonization of the northeastern portion of North America followed a totally different pattern. With an indigenous population that may be called scarcely developed from a cultural and social point of view, the social organization developed in that area imitated that of Europe and differed from that developed in indigenous-Hispanic-Portuguese America. Nevertheless, we should note that a particular style of scientific tradition also developed in the original thirteen British colonies through time and across social dynamics.

Styles in science reveal the diverse sociohistorical and geographical conditions to which it has been subjected. Such is the case of Spanish America, where, as the Conquest and the imposition of Western civilization truncated native social and cultural processes, syncretism between old local knowledge and new knowledge imposed by Europeans, the cross-fertilization of those systems, and nontypical forms of European and Amerindian traditional scientific practice emerged. Proof lies in the survival of significant indigenous communities that possess a solid culture with elements of their traditional science and techniques.

The new societies that began to develop in the Americas in the sixteenth century led to historically unprecedented social and cultural evolution. New social characteristics derived both from the imposed social and cultural order and from the native one. For our purposes, the settlers' gradual creation of their own Latin American identity (by "Indianizing" the natives and through miscegenation and Creolization [criollismo]) during three hundred years of colonial life is especially significant. These social and cultural facts were expressed in the science that developed in the region. That science had a propensity to use established knowledge to understand the immediate natural and human reality or to develop it if necessary. A territorial, or telluric, feeling and a zeal for having their knowledge play a social role were important intellectual and social stimuli and acted on Latin American scientists at the end of the colonial era.

The emancipation of American societies in the second decade of the nineteenth century once again saw scientific activity take a particular course. The new American nations welcomed the nineteenth century optimistically, and their hopes lay with science to impart modern education to their people and to provide for the well-being and the material transformation of society. Colonial sociocultural inheritance and the formidable internal and external challenges that the new nations had to face impeded the scientific projects of the "Independence Generation." Nevertheless, Latin America felt the need to transform and adapt itself to the new requirements of its social evolution. Educational reform based on science was undertaken in all the newly independent countries, and the employment of science and technology for social and political ends, envisioned at independence and motivated by the goal of "progress," began in the second half of the century.

In the twentieth century, especially toward the end, science and technology became omnipresent. They embraced everything, including international affairs. Science also became an important academic discipline, and "invisible" schools communicate more intensively now. In the middle of the twentieth century, the need to encourage strategies for social and economic development that included science and technology as an important component became evident. Facing such critical situations as foreign indebtedness and the concomitant reduction of funds spent on science and technology, Latin Americans realized that cooperation and regional scientific collaboration could be the answer to the "lost decade" of the 1980s.

With globalization of all types and the challenge of the third Industrial Revolution, coordination of science and technology became an adequate and appropriate strategy for the future of Latin America. At present, there are numerous areas of science and technology in which regional and subregional cooperation exist. Issues vital to all countries—such as protection of the environment, communications and information science, energy, new materials, health, agriculture, biotechnology, scientific and technological development, basic sciences, and the teaching of science—are demanding closer cooperation among Latin America nations.

The choice of endogenous science and technology in these countries, in the opinion of the contributors to this book, is historically irreversible. But at the same time, it is equally important to recognize that people belong to a particular sociocultural environment and that modernization is not transferable nor does it guarantee success. The decades-long prevalence of scientific and technical voluntarism confirms this. This is why sociohistorical studies of science and technology have become indispensable and allow us to understand the cultural dimension of science and technology, wherein the main change actors may submit science to their control (i.e., contribute a bit of the realism so needed by current development projects).

Historiographic Approaches: The Emergence of "Science on the Periphery"

The history of science as a discipline has developed conceptually and technically since the 1940s. It has moved from the level of a "literary genre" imposed in the eighteenth century (to relate the main episodes in the evolution of science) to scientific ideas and the external conditions that make science possible. The absence of Latin America and, broadly speaking, of the periphery draws attention in specialized international literature on the technical evolution of the historiography of science. This does not mean that historical studies of the science of these countries or the outlying regions are absent. There have been some, and it is possible to talk about certain traditions—like those in Latin America. Rather, I refer here to the embarrassing situation that a Latin American historian of science faces: on the one hand, the assertion of the universal and positive character of scientific knowledge; on the other, the generally recognized contextual nature of scientific activity. This situation consists of "being" (as José Sala says when referring to Latin America) between the history of science and its philosophy.

This important issue has come into focus since the 1980s. The well-known controversy between Spanish and Latin American science, which included racial overtones and separated cultures and regions from the ability to produce science, has been put aside. Fact-based research has been required to demonstrate how fruitful and varied Latin American scientific activity has been, to show the existence of theoretical issues in the historiography of science essential to specific geographical and cultural regions, and, finally, to pull down the complex framework of ideas about what the history of science and science itself are and to locate in the philosophical field of historiography the serious and pressing questions of what has been something more than mere forgetfulness: the existence of Latin American science.

Furthermore, in Latin America, the history of science had been essentially a "secret" history, according to Elías Trabulse, or even "not told," as Marcos Cueto claims. Indeed, this history remained hidden and underground, though it developed chronologically parallel to the political, social, economic, and cultural events that constitute the past of the Latin American people.

Now then, why has this "secret" history remained secret, and why have historians, as a rule, not studied it? It is because of the approach, the historiographic methods and theories that have prevailed until recently. Nevertheless, the evolution of the historiography of science permitted the field to open up to scientific activity previously excluded cultural regions, Latin America, in our case. Thus, individuals and circumstances, texts, institutions, practices, policies, and theories that never before were thought of—and with which this book deals—emerged in the work of the historians of science.

Historical studies about local science had, until the 1980s, a limited horizon and a distorted understanding of scientific activity. Basically, the works that strove to record Latin American scientific experience were laudatory histories, chronologies of events, and commemorative accounts, all of them revealing methodological vagueness and little understanding of the peculiarities of the field. Other works sought to develop a history of the "contributions" to universal science. An underlying Eurocentrism in historiography led efforts beginning in the nineteenth century to outline the history of Latin American science conceptually, which, surprisingly and ex hypothesi, excluded Latin America. Besides, Latin American "contributions" were indeed very scarce. This situation prompted contemporary historians of science to develop a perspective from which science would arise, as Shozo Motoyama says, "as a social process that could be understood even outside the European framework."

All of this illustrates the marginal role assigned to Latin America, which, although it did not participate in the Scientific Revolution, had in the last four and a half centuries contributed original scientific achievements to the framework supported by the great European advances. Our interest in the social history of Latin American science is due to this fact. It is a history connected to the culture and identity of the region, because the undeniably valuable science that developed there interacted with the social context and is inseparably linked to it. Moreover, this history is also concerned with the general history of science, since it relates the complex process of the spread of European science, as well as its adoption in the receiving countries. This process, of course, is an important part of the science that originated in Europe, and to study it is to see in the mirror the reflection of the source. Most important are the causes and circumstances of this reflection (whether distorted or refined) of a beam that did not spread unaltered through geography or time.

If the reflected image is interesting for the general history of science itself, the plane of reflection, continuing the metaphor, is interesting for understanding the role science played in the receiving societies as well as the structural difficulties of establishing and consolidating it as national science. The history of science can show, thus, the dynamics of scientific culture and communities, the particular scientific ethos, schools of thought, the social mechanisms for valuing scientific work, the institutions, development policy, the setting up of teaching institutions. When that history is compared to the European pattern, the "perverse" effects and other social aspects of great importance, besides allowing us to understand Latin American scientific development, help us clarify our options.

Historiographic Mimesis

In the 1950s, Latin American science historians discovered local science as a product of local history. By that time, methodologies like economism and social analysis had appeared and sought to define the object of the history of science. Pioneering works like those by José López Sánchez (Tomás Romay y el origen de la ciencia en Cuba [Tomás Romay and the Origin of Science in Cuba], originally published in 1950), Fernando de Azevedo (As ciências no Brasil [The Sciences in Brazil], 1955), and Eli Gortari (La ciencia en la historia de México [Science in the History of Mexico], originally published in 1963), opened a new window in the historiography of Latin American science. This resurgence of historiography, however, did not bring about the immediate reform of epistemological problems or analytical categories. In fact, an uncomfortable Eurocentrism, originating from a certain methodological mimesis, continued in the form of an apparent inability to define and to grasp the appropriate object of the history of Latin American science, in spite of incorporating social history in the analysis. A later generation of historians declared the universalist model of the "history of science in Latin America" to be insufficient. Neither the mere reference to social facts nor to history was enough to understand the nature of science in these countries.

The philosophical criticism of methodologies has shown the usefulness of an "epistemological watchfulness" in this discipline. Until the 1980s, this issue had not been approached by specialists, who considered it natural to follow their European colleagues when studying the scientific past of Latin America. It was, in fact, in methodological imitation that science and its essential conditioners looked, in different social contexts, for Latin American contributions to the scientific mainstream or the socioeconomic and cultural conditioners typical of modern European science. Although positivism and economism were encouraged for nationalist purposes (i.e., to find a place for Latin America in the history of science), the issue of specificity was ignored. As a consequence, a strange and paradoxical historical discourse was produced that aimed to understand the historical element of a geographically and culturally defined science according to universal outlines. The new history of science, fundamentally understood as social history, made it clear that not only the object of study but also the concepts for grasping it were specific.

Between the 1930s and the 1950s, expectations arose in the region regarding a quick development of science in Latin America as part of economic-development projects. These projects conceived of science as a factor in development. Therefore, Latin Americans sought to graft onto or to inject scientific modernization into society and to create institutions and policies specifically dedicated to this purpose. The issue of the situation of science in Latin America and its possible future consequences therefore arose. Unlike previous historiographic methods, the new concern was centered on identifying the conditions that make possible—or that impede—scientific development in a certain sociohistorical context. Fernando de Azevedo, for example, was inspired by the Weberian sociology of culture. The work of López Sánchez and Gortari, in turn, originated in the methodology provided by historical materialism.

Azevedo saw Brazilian scientific development as an integral part of Brazilian culture. He wondered about the causes of his country's scientific backwardness and tried to identify the ailment and propose remedies. His work claims that the association of civil and religious power, characterized by the Counter-Reformation in Portugal, is the cause, because obscurantist cultural policies, necessary for economic exploitation, were imposed in the colony. It was not until 1837, during the regency, that the rupture with the Jesuit colonial tradition of teaching began. Later, there were sporadic scientific manifestations in the field of experimental research and applied science. Finally, in the twentieth century, the effects on urban growth of the development of trade and industry, mainly in S„o Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, led to the founding of the country's first universities (in the 1930s) and of other scientific centers—which had, until then, abandoned the dominant (literary and rhetorical) cultural model. Azevedo concluded that the ideas that determined the Brazilian cultural process originated in particular policies and economic and social forces; only the transformation of these could have a positive impact on the evolution of culture and, as a consequence, of science. The history of science would, according to Azevedo, help Brazilians become aware of the changes that the national culture required for scientific development.

This analytical approach constituted a historiographic novelty when it appeared. For the first time, Brazilian scientific activity was related to significant social events in the country's history. But did it really give an account of scientific activity in the country? Azevedo's argument seemed to be a plea for what should be changed so that science could flourish. What he suggested was a different cultural framework capable of engendering science as it functioned in scientifically advanced countries.

Paradoxically, the thesis that appropriate conditions have not existed (i.e., the absence of the Protestant ethic and culture)for nurturing science contradicts the efforts of Azevedo and his collaborators to create a history of something that did not yet exist: science in Brazil. The illogicality can be explained by not excluding contextual treatment of the object of study and by considering it, rather, as an example of the prototype—European science. Appearances to the contrary, Azevedo's approach was a variation of Eurocentrism and, from the epistemological point of view, of externalism.

Inspired by Marxist theses, José López Sánchez (in Cuba) and Eli Gortari (in Mexico) composed historical interpretations of the scientific development of their countries, although López studied only the late eighteenth century. Both authors maintained that the introduction of modern science was the result of establishing capitalism. In their opinion, the revolutionary effects of science were manifested in the economy because of science's direct contribution to the development of productive forces—on the ideological plane, by science's fight against religion and Scholastic thought; in education, by the progress science represented for agriculture and industry.

As several researchers have pointed out, the supposedly productive function of science did not take place during the time these authors are talking about, in Cuba or in Mexico. There are also doubts about their anti-Scholastic and antireligious thesis, because it is not difficult to prove the union between science and faith in colonial Latin America. Regarding the educational impact of science, we must recognize that in Mexico, in contrast to other places, it was present but scarcely influenced industrial activities.

If we accept the theoretical model adopted by López Sánchez and Gortari, we would have to conclude that in Latin America there was no science, since the conditions considered necessary by proponents of externalism for the emergence of modern science were absent. Historians of European science who regularly avoided speaking of Latin American science came to this conclusion, in fact. López Sánchez and Gortari were inspired by the commendable intention of finding a historical place for Latin American scientific activity. It is, in fact, impossible if we accept economism and Eurocentrism. Accordingly, one has either to deny the existence of science in the periphery or qualify it as "exceptional" for lacking a theoretical locus. Neither option gives a faithful account of what really happened, and from the historical point of view, neither answers the initial question: What has Latin American scientific activity been specifically, and what social conditions made it possible?

Such is the case with Azevedo's sociologism and López and Gortari's economist externalism, which involves a simple transfer of European historiography, which is positivist, reductionist, and ahistorical when applied uncritically to Latin America. It is, as a consequence, an inadequate methodology because it arises from mimesis. When the essential contextual differences between Europe and Latin America are not kept in mind, it is presumed that the same social factors act on the dynamics of science. To imitate in history is, therefore, to lose one's identity.

"Thinking Our Science": Twenty-five Years of the Historiography of Latin American Science

Since the mid-1980s, we have understood that the history of science and technology pose problems that are epistemological in nature (their geographical and cultural specificity, for example) and that the historian should not ignore. In fact, the discipline began to become self-aware when it began to ask what the history of science was about if it included contextual definitions? In this section, we will talk about how this self-awareness emerged.

To break with the methodological mimesis, it was necessary to chart a new course in historiography, one whose focus was the specificity of science in the periphery. "Thinking our science" became the watchword. This process began to take place in the 1980s and is characterized by conceptual and terminological modernization. It derives, however, from the progress of this discipline in other parts of the world—while Latin American historiographers move conceptual problems to the forefront as part of their search for an alternative to the internalism-externalism dilemma. Thus, the criticism of the perspective that focused the history of science on the history of scientific ideas and mathematics-based ideas is important, as it excluded the regions that were not in the so-called mainstream of scientific development. In the historiographic tradition, areas and cultures like those of Latin America and even the United States until the end of the nineteenth century were outside the field. It therefore became necessary to break the characteristic schematism characteristic of externalism.

The founding of the Sociedad Latinoamericana de Historia de las Ciencias y la Tecnología (Latin American Society for the History of the Sciences and Technology) in the City of Puebla, Mexico, in 1982, and the launch of its journal, Quipu, Revista Latinoamericana de Historia de las Ciencias y la Tecnología in 1984, are equally important. Both helped spur growth in the 1980s of amateur approaches to making the discipline professional and to bringing international recognition to the history of science in the region.

Thus was developed a new language able to name situations and scientific actions never before considered by historians of science. It is therefore appropriate to say that, from that point, the scope of historians of science expanded. "Peripheral" science offered new, specific facets for historical study. In fact, the science of Latin America came to be recognized as science in its own context. Let us consider some of the main developments that have taken place in this discipline.

Long stages of Latin America's history, for well-known reasons, have been framed by religious culture. How did scientific thought and religious culture cohabit in Hispanic-Lusitanian America? From the traditional point of view, there was absolute opposition between science and religion. Therefore, for colonial scientists, science did not quite fit into this kind of interpretative scheme, and historians often denied its existence or, when it could not be ignored, declared scientific and technical discoveries from the Americas exceptional. But when the ties with traditional history were broken as a consequence of continued research, unsuspected individuals, scientific texts, and institutions emerged, such as López Piñero has made evident in the case of Spanish science. Trabulse studied the exact sciences in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mexico, periods declared by previous historians to be void of science. Along the same lines, Trabulse, in Ciencia y religión en el siglo XVII, studies astronomy and religion and declares that they were "indivisible, since focusing on only one aspect . . . would mutilate what should be considered as a whole." In fact, this move was something more than uniting disparate terms, because studying comets in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries necessarily meant mixing two conceptions of the universe: one coming from medieval science, and the other from the new mechanistic cosmology, which had come into existence by that time. It is worth pointing out that this happened not only in New Spain but also in Europe, so we can say that Latin American scientists were up on the scientific currents and concerns of the time.

The sociohistorical analysis of science was developed partly under the influence of functional sociology. Sim„o Schwartzman applies this methodology to the study of the formation of the Brazilian scientific community. Contrary to the idea that establishes science as a progressive construction of the ideal building of truth, and relying on R. K. Merton and Thomas S. Kuhn, Schwartzman studies important subjects such as science on the periphery and science and development. He establishes that the history of science can be seen "as the history of efforts to establish national scientific communities to work with the models, themes, and styles of work characteristic of science in each era."

The work of Thomas S. Kuhn should be mentioned here because several scholars apply Kuhnian methodology to Latin American science. Trabulse does this in Historia de la ciencia en México when he assigns a pivotal role to the notions of "paradigm" and scientific community. This concept leads him directly to question the theoretical locus of Mexican science. By recognizing that scientific communities are characterized by their adherence to a paradigm, Trabulse is able to assign a locus to Mexican scientific activity, since, in his opinion, the latter exhibits successive adoptions of scientific paradigms, each one corresponding to the evolution of science. Trabulse also uses a complementary thesis about the continuity of Mexican scientific communities as a basis for asserting the existence of a local scientific tradition beginning in the sixteenth century. He divides the dynamics of scientific development into periods corresponding to the changes in paradigms.

The notion of a scientific community is useful when applied to "normal science," such as the systems and institutions in which science is taught and those in which research is conducted. J. M. Carvalho's work on Brazil, Hebe Vessuri's studies on Venezuela's scientific institutions, J. I. López Soria's history of Peru's Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería (National Engineering University), María A. M. Dantes's works on research institutes in Brazil, and Nancy Stepan's study of the Instituto Oswaldo Cruz (among others) use this approach. All of these authors are interested in understanding the mechanisms that have worked to institutionalize science in Latin America. This issue goes to the heart of the development of Latin American science because, according to Roger Hahn, scientific institutions are the forge in which knowledge and politics are joined to create viable science.

Politics as a form of reconciling interests has become a research area in recent years in the more general sense of the role played by the state with regard to science, since the state acts on institutional mechanisms, organizational forms, goals, financing, and conditions that make scientific activity possible. After noticing that the fundamental factors for European scientific development (i.e., industry and the army) had virtually no influence on Latin America's scientific development, some researchers have wondered about Latin American science's agent of structural change. The very makeup of Latin America's history, that is, a strong political regime during the colonial period and an environment of economic exclusion since independence, has left it up to the nation-states to create a scientific infrastructure. The relationship between science and political order is by no means secondary, because it has had a direct effect on the conditions that made Latin American scientific development possible. This was Frank Safford's method for analyzing the attempts to form a technological elite in Colombia in the nineteenth century. Since there was no real industrial demand, this elite ended up in public administration or teaching, which thwarted technological advancement. Marcel Roche, by studying Rafael Rangel and the unavoidable problems he faced, has analyzed how Venezuelan science began to be politicized. In Mexico, there have been studies that illustrate the coordinating role of the state regarding science since independence. I have shown how the policies of the state have been pivotal in the organization and promotion of scientific activity and, reciprocally, how science and technology have aided the nation-state in transforming politics into social engineering to create a new society. To the political figure of the "sovereign state" I have added the scientific figure of the "rational or scientific state."

Latin American scientists have certainly maintained contact with Europe since the sixteenth century. This fact has led various authors to focus on science's transcultural transmission. This approach means analyzing processes of incorporation and the adoption of science in defined sociohistorical contexts. Lewis Pyenson, for example, has introduced new analytical categories such as "functionaries" and scientific "seekers." These have allowed us to clarify the complex structure, not foreign to international politics, in which scientific activity in Latin America has remained entangled. Such was the case of the exact sciences, subjected to the cultural imperialism from which Latin America has frequently suffered. Moreno and Pruna have studied Darwinism within this framework.

The issue of the spread of science has produced very interesting results regarding our understanding of ways for adopting or appropriating theories and forms of scientific practice in different contexts. It is not possible to separate scientific diffusion on the periphery from the reception process, which is not only material but also conceptual, ideological, and cultural. In this sense, the diffusion-reception process was conceived as a historical reality rooted in social interests. Luis Carlos Arboleda has used concepts taken from the sociology of knowledge for analyzing the spread of scientific theories and established the following: that historical facts have been in charge of socializing scientific paradigms, that is, would be responsible for understanding the social and cultural conditions under which the original theoretical system underwent an intermediation and reinterpretation process until public opinion was favorable. José Sala and Antonio Lafuente have pointed out the importance of the socioprofessional role played by scientists in colonized regions for comprehending the institutionalization of science in New Spain. I, in turn, have shown that all diffusionist approaches to the history of science deliberately omit local context as an explanatory category for what happened in particular sociohistorical circumstances; thus, they make the science of peripheral areas dependent on the mythical and, consequently, ideological scientific misoneism of a "disinterested" Europe.

The cultural role science has played in underdeveloped countries is also relevant to transcultural diffusion. If, as the historiography of European science has shown, there is a direct link between science and European civilization, then it is necessary to accept science as culture. This leads to an analysis that does not differentiate between life and its problems or between life and the intellectual objective of improving knowledge. Vessuri has pointed out that Latin American scientific knowledge can no longer be separated from the network of cultural constrictions or ideological commitments that ordinarily shape social and political decisions. The revaluation of local common sense and the (re)construction of traditions, therefore, become a very important objective for the researcher. In this same vein, Marcos Cueto has carried out research on the relationship between scientific research and nationalist and indigenist ideologies, as in the case of biomedical research in Peru.

The question of the spread of science from a center identified with Europe during most of Latin America's history has begun to demand a different type of analysis, that is, multilateral analysis, since this is a truly complex matter. The belief that "the cause of everything" in Latin American scientific and technological processes is the diffusion of new theories and scientific methods and the organization of scientific activity from the home countries. This point of view assumes that cultural renovation is the expression of a single, fixed, and complete will working from the top down that diminishes until it finally disappears into the characteristic dynamics of "outlying" or colonial societies. For that reason, the topic of nationalism in science has begun to draw attention. I have shown that it is not possible to conceive of a scientific evolution of peripheral regions only as the result of an "injection" or "abrupt and quick introduction of science and technology." We must take into account local factors, which usually constitute the sine qua non for globalizing science (its "ecology").

As we have seen, conceptualizing peripheral science as exceptional does not help us understand its process. Arboleda, following this reasoning, has called "patriotic science" those projects that were intended to help New Granada's elite prosper by using modern science for exploiting the country for the gain of local interests. The concept of "national science" has expanded because it not only includes the national period but, in some cases (New Spain, Peru, and New Granada), it also takes in the end of the colonial period as well, when local science achieved a clearly central role in society (see Chaps. 2,3, and 5 in this volume). It is worth emphasizing that colonial Spanish scientific and institutional initiatives relied on the national science that was flourishing in Mexico City, Lima, and Santa Fe de Bogotá.

In the case of colonial Latin America, and particularly in regions like Mexico and Peru, the notion of "scientific tradition" or "endogenous science" (sometimes, of course, not free from social exclusion or heterodoxy) must be introduced in order to understand the cultural, ideological, and political context in which the spread of science—which generates social and cultural effects in the receiving country—takes place. Indeed, the failure of projects conceived in the home countries, polemical discussions with foreign scientists, and the perverse effects of foreign science occurred more frequently than is generally imagined. A quick look at the causes is enough to demonstrate that the spread of science does not take place in a cultural vacuum; for that reason, there may be opposition to it or to development modalities—such as happened in the Mexican case with chemistry, physics, and botany, or in Colombia in relation to mathematics.36 For this reason, it has been necessary to look for the roots and the context that made imported and local science in peripheral regions historically possible.

In the case of New Spain, the existence of ideological nationalism and a "Creole" scientific tradition shows, for example, that in this colony there was an appropriate foundation for introducing scientific theories, institutions, and policies at the end of the eighteenth century. That is, Mexican science followed an evolutionary organizational process that ended up, naturally, in institutionalization.37 In other words, there was an accumulative process of social experience regarding scientific knowledge and its organization. Until now, excessive weight has been given to external elements and their concomitant ruptures, because the relationship between external and internal components in Latin American science has not been treated as a dialectic.

Finally, I must point out that in this analysis it is increasingly crucial to study the role played in Europe by scientists born in the periphery and the influence they exerted on science in the home countries. This will help us better understand the "bidirectional" action of the process of spreading science.

The increasingly clear placement of Latin American science within a defined social context does not mean that interest in "scientific matters" or in the regional peculiarities of knowledge production has disappeared altogether. The emergence of conceptual tools for including science in the Latin American context was so innovative that it was necessary to use borrowed terminology before it was possible to produce an adequate conceptualization and expression. The notion of periphery applied to science was born in this way. The "periphery" category originated in dependency theory (prevalent during the 1960s and the 1970s) and dealt with the structural and asymmetrical relationship between the industrialized and the underdeveloped countries. When applied to science, the concept of asymmetry was used to compare underdeveloped countries with those considered as knowledge-producing centers and owners of scientific infrastructure, communities, and a research tradition. "Peripheral science" turned out to be the science produced in countries with a small structured scientific community, where just a tiny part of their gross domestic product was directed to scientific development and scientists' productivity was low (measured in terms of how many times their articles were quoted in international specialized journals). At present, the validity of several conclusions derived from the notion of peripheral science is being questioned.

Other conclusions express realities that are impossible to ignore because they refer to fundamental conditions such as the small investment in science and technology and the small number of researchers per capita. In particular, the criteria of productivity and other so-called international indicators of quality in scientific activity have been challenged because of their biased nature and because they do not correspond to the regional modalities of scientific practice.

Historians of science have pointed out how rigid the concept of dependence is when it is applied to historical events, since it prevents the understanding of facts and situations. How do we explain, for example, that sometimes Latin American science has been "central" in relation to European science? New Granadan botany and Mexican herbalism, colonial Peruvian mathematics, New Spanish metallurgy, or the fact that Newton and Sig¸enza were contemporaries—all of these are examples of past scientific excellence. More recently, we have discoveries in endocrinology by Argentine Bernardo Houssay and in microbiology by the Brazilian Oswaldo Cruz. In the 1980s, Marcos Cueto studied "the strange combination of modern and creative work in supposedly traditional and 'peripheral' contexts that are far from the world centers of science" and showed that biomedical research in Peru in the first half of the twentieth century displayed academic excellence. Roy Macleod, on the other hand, has introduced the idea of the "moving metropolis" to refer to the intellectual creativity that takes place in colonial regimes inside a dialectical alternation between diffusion and reelaboration: this concept is today drawing the attention of researchers worldwide because, in some measure, it also characterizes European science.

It is precisely the lack of original thought, since there is always a debt to the pioneers in a discipline, that raises the following question: When is a scientific community really creative? In a sense, all communities are receptors but not all communities reprocess what they receive until they have made it their own and contributed to its development. "Science is dependent when it passively receives and does not reprocess," as Celina Lértora writes. This Argentine historian has defined reelaboration as a characteristic of Latin American scientific activity in the following terms: there is reelaboration when the research in the receiving community produces a theoretically (or technically) different result from the previously held assumption, and this result is obtained independently of other scientific communities.

Regarding the conditions that render possible the creativity and endogenous development of science, Shozo Motoyama describes Latin American scientific evolution as a process that advances by phases using a model called MTS (mental and technical substratum). The first phase is the mental substratum, or "intersubjective base that provides and limits the action of intellect to formulate questions about nature." The second phase, the technical substratum, is "able to engender the instruments and necessary apparatuses to capture the answers to the questions already posed about nature—arising out of the mediation of the mental substratum." The maturation of both phases permits full scientific development. Motoyama analyzes the case history of physics in Brazil and studies the formation of mental and technical substrata. He concludes that the dynamics of scientific, technological, and cultural development in his country since the 1970s has made these substrata reach a certain level of development, which has rendered possible for Brazilian science the end of a merely imitative stage and the beginning of another, more authentic and original, one.

Although this review of the conceptual progress made in the discipline called the social history of science in Latin America is superficial, it nevertheless allows us to appreciate the remarkable dynamism of this branch of history in recent decades and how it has rightly become a field of knowledge. In addition to the abovementioned studies, there are abundant empirical ones that represent an interesting rereading of the scientific past and, not infrequently, offer traditional historiography new or formerly ignored data. An image, to a certain extent unexpected, of Latin American science and its social and cultural relationships has emerged but remains, in great measure, unknown outside the scholarly environment.

This book was organized to remedy, at least in part, this situation. A select group of researchers was invited to introduce their work to the public. These studies have been carried out using new theoretical approaches to the history of science in context. Our intention is to analyze, for the first time, both comparatively and comprehensively (chronologically and thematically), the scientific experience of this region, so vast in both time and space. The result is a group of monographs aimed at the learned public interested in discovering the dimensions and the value of Latin American science.

The book also contains several innovations. Concerning the colonial period, Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5 introduce novel ways of referring to the scientific activity that took place during the Enlightenment. In Chapter 2, I consider scientific modernization to be the product of the social dynamics (economic, demographic, cultural, technical, and scientific) that the region underwent and also an answer to the needs brought about by such development. By abandoning traditional explanations wherein modernization relies on external factors (such as "good king" Charles III, the progressive ideas of the transnational Society of Jesus, and the misoneism of "scientific centers"), I clearly demonstrate how nationalism was imposed on Enlightenment science and its liberating ideological character.

Luis Carlos Arboleda and Diana Soto Arango (Chap. 3) analyze eighteenth-century polemics regarding the introduction of modern scientific theories and discover that these arguments were motivated by the struggle between the civil and the religious sectors for cultural and educational control, and not by "disinterested" actors in the modernization process—as has sometimes been claimed. They demonstrate the inadequacy of the customary diffussionist explanation, which omits the local context in which modernity is received and adopted and which has also always left its imprint on the final result.

Antonio Lafuente and Leoncio López-Ocón (Chap. 4), likewise, leave behind the view that presents initiatives for scientific expeditions as arising exclusively in the home countries. These authors also recognize strong local roots—viceregal and ecclesiastical—as two of the main sources for information about nature, geography, and American communities. They also highlight the process of cultural regionalization that originated in expeditionary scientific activities, particularly those in the eighteenth century.

The birth of the independent American nations stimulated unforeseen scientific activity. Contrary to the traditional thesis that independence created a scientific void, in Chapter 5, I refer to the emergence of nation-states simultaneously with an awareness of the value that science would have for completing political emancipation. In an atmosphere of prevailing optimism about what newly won freedom would involve, the independence-era generation formulated in all countries a republican scientific ideology, which received social and political sanction by being included in the constitutions of the new states. The nineteenth century began with this ideology on the horizon, and throughout the century diligent efforts were made to turn it into a reality.

Emilio Quevedo and Francisco Gutiérrez (Chap. 6) study medicine and public health in the nineteenth century. As happened in other areas, during the century, medicine underwent deep conceptual and technical transformations. With frequent references to, for example, Bogotá, Rio de Janeiro, Lima, Mexico City, and Buenos Aires, the authors describe the processes by which medicine was "modernized" and point out the role local context played in shaping theoretical and practical medicine capable of responding to public-health needs.

Hebe M. C. Vessuri (Chap. 7) presents the emergence of academic science in the twentieth century and the internal and external factors that contributed to it. It is worth mentioning that historians devoted little attention to twentieth-century science before Vessuri. Vessuri uses a sociological thesis and periodization for the purpose of understanding the nature and the complexity of the evolution of academic scientific activity in Latin America during most of the twentieth century.

Marcos Cueto (Chap. 8), also referring to the twentieth century, presents the case of the successful maturation of a scientific discipline in Latin America, namely, physiology, and the role new historiography can play in dissolving and abandoning prejudices (as ingrained as they are frequently false) that exist equally among the region's scientists and its historians. False conceptions include, among others, the dependent character of Latin American science, the necessity of big investments for its development, and the invariably negative influence of nationalism on science.

As is well known, the First World War involved scientists in a very significant fashion, and from then on, their activities acquired political and international relevance. Regis Cabral (Chap. 9) studies, by looking at major events, the less well known but significant case of the exact sciences in Latin America and their involvement in worldwide political problems. If we want to understand completely the diverse endogenous and exogenous factors that are involved in the field of regional science, we must make Latin American and world diplomatic history another element in the social history of science.

I believe this book presents new perspectives on Latin American science. Knowledge and the wide diffusion of the region's scientific history becomes indispensable when, as now, science and technology have reached a significant level of development. It is now when scientific efforts must be increased considerably in order to respond to the enormous challenges resulting from the region's underdevelopment. This step is necessary for forming a regional or local scientific culture and for continuing to build the "ecological niche" that the science of Latin America needs.

It is evident that very important aspects, such as strategic viability, need pertinent historical information to allow the main agents of change to modify and control themselves. It is equally important to base these modifications on the social history of local science. In short, it is fundamental "to learn from oneself." Thus, for that purpose, the history of science must be written to allow the construction of national scientific capability. In Latin America, the collective amnesia about the scientific and technological past cannot continue without the risk of losing the future.

As the recent European and Asian experience has proved, the cultural diversity of those regions that make up the global "marketplace" has become (in fact, it always was) the most valuable resource. Such diversity constitutes the reserve of experiences from which we will have to start creating true international science and society. To know and comprehend it is, therefore, imperative.

Postscript, 2001

The Spanish-language version of this book was published at the end of the twentieth century. This translation (financed by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México [National Autonomous University of Mexico]) will appear at the dawn of the new century, after the XXI Congreso Internacional de Historia de la Ciencia (International Congress of the History of Science) in Mexico City. That conference's general theme was "Science and Cultural Diversity." This English-language version allows the conference's findings to find worldwide distribution. In this way, we hope to create a new image of science as all-inclusive, in order to see the universal, as Portuguese novelist Miguel Torga says, as the local without walls.


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