Science in Early Modern Atlantic World Cultures (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

Fall 2014 Semester Seminar

Between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries, the lens through which early modern Europeans understood the natural world changed dramatically. The framework of natural philosophy that had long served Europeans collapsed in the face of contact with the Americas, an increasing skepticism about ancient philosophies, and the development of a new experimental science that in the words of Francis Bacon promised to “try the whole thing anew.” This seminar explored how these and other changes in natural philosophy were reflected in a wide range of cultural products created or consumed in the early modern Atlantic world. Participants studied natural philosophical ideas as they appeared in literary genres such as poetry, utopias, and travel narratives. They also examined the visual culture of this Atlantic space for clues about changing conceptions of the natural world. The expedition encompassed Anglophone, French, Portuguese and Hispanic regions and payed careful attention to hybrid cultural products that reflect the interaction between indigenous cultures and the (changing) European understanding of the natural world.

Director: María M. Portuondo is Associate Professor of History at The Johns Hopkins University. Her book, Secret Science: Spanish Cosmography and the New World (2009), studied how Spanish cosmographers sought to integrate the New World into the conceptual framework of Renaissance science. Her current focus is on the natural philosopher and biblical scholar, Benito Arias Montano (1527-1598).