Ethnography and Natural History from the New World to the Philippines

94 George Street

Providence, RI 02906

The genre of natural history, inspired by the ancient work of the Elder Pliny, was central to how sixteenth-century Europeans (such as Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo) connected the New World to the Old. However, rationalizing novelty within intellectually cogent and religiously orthodox parameters presented multiple challenges. In this respect, no work was more influential than the Jesuit José de Acosta's Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias (1590). For him and for many who wrote in his wake, one issue that remained potentially troublesome was how to explore the connections between the natural and the moral - that is, the human - worlds. The role of ethnography within natural history was crucial in this respect. This talk explores how two Jesuit missionaries writing natural history a few decades after José de Acosta, Bernabé Cobo and Francisco Ignacio Alzina, dealt with this issue. It also exemplifies how the boundaries between the Old World of Asia and the New World of the Americas became blurred across the Pacific.

Annual Maury A. Bromsen Memorial Lecture in Latin American History and Culture featuring Joan-Pau Rubiés.