Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800

By Daniela Bleichmar; Paula De Vos et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Science, Medicine, and Technology
in Colonial Spanish America
New Interpretations, New Approaches

DAVID GOODMAN

“The history of Spain is one of the most attractive fields that lie open to the historical student. Its variety is infinite and the possibilities of new and important discoveries are unexhausted.” So began the stirring preface to that pioneering and still-admired work of the early twentieth century, The Rise of the Spanish Empire by Roger Bigelow Merriman, professor of history at Harvard. And addressing himself to fellow American readers, he continued: “The principal interest of the subject will inevitably center around Spain’s activities as a great conquering and colonizing power,” a focus that demanded viewing “the history of Spain herself, which forms the background for the entire picture … from the standpoint of the great Empire which sprang from her.”1

How different the portrayal of the same subject, three-quarters of a century later, in Henry Kamen’s Spain’s Road to Empire!2 Here, the very idea of a Spanish conquest of the New World is rejected because the vastness of America rules it out. Rejected also is the traditional belief that Spain created an empire unaided. Instead, Kamen insists that Spain’s empire existed only by collaboration with Italian, German, and Flemish military and technical experts, and through commercial connivance of English and Dutch competitors. Other foreigners, Chinese, sustained Spain’s Far Eastern entrepôt of the Philippines by running Manila’s economy, shipbuilding, and directing the trade primed by the annual arrival of the silver galleon from Mexico, across the Pacific. And Kamen highlights the importance of native Indians and African blacks for the

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