Amerindian Contributions to the Tesoro messicano

Matthijs Jonker, Ph.D.

My research project is an interdisciplinary inquiry into the transatlantic and transcultural production of knowledge in the early modern period. On the one hand, my project consists of a cultural-historical analysis, in which early modern knowledge practices in Italy, Spain, and Mexico are reconstructed and compared with each other. The primary case study in this part of the project is the Tesoro messicano (TM), an encyclopedia of the natural history of Mexico published by the Roman Accademia dei Lincei in 1651. This book is placed in the larger context of the healing practices performed on both sides of the Atlantic. On the other hand, the project aims to further current 'globalization' approaches in historiography of art and science by developing a practice-theoretical interpretative framework. Rejecting the center-periphery distinction for a more 'horizontal' approach, this framework focuses on processes of negotiation as well as on the circulation, appropriation and translation of artistic forms and knowledge in the 'contact zones' where cultures and practices meet. The TM is a pertinent research object in the cultural-historical part of this project because it is the product of Spanish, Italian, and Amerindian knowledge practices. The importance of this publication for the history of science consists in the use of the original material that was collected and produced in Mexico, partly by indigenous 'artists' and 'scientists' with knowledge of botany and medicine. However, the TM has hitherto only been studied from a European perspective. My project aims to change this by elucidating the contribution by indigenous epistemic actors in the compilation and publication of this book. The leading question in the cultural-historical part of the project concerns the contacts between European and indigenous epistemic actors. How was Amerindian knowledge transformed, appropriated and translated into the TM, so that it could be understood and applied by European scientists?

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