Iberian science, Portuguese Empire, and cultures of inquiry in early-modern Europe

Authored by: Hugh Cagle

The Routledge Handbook of Science and Empire

Print publication date:  July  2021
Online publication date:  July  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367221256
eBook ISBN: 9780429273360
Adobe ISBN:


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The Iberian science framework embraces the view that procedures for the production of knowledge were more or less unified within Iberia and distinguished it from northern Europe. By sketching connections and comparisons largely within sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, this essay argues that the Iberian science perspective exaggerates differences between Iberia and northern Europe while simultaneously eliding important differences in the ways in which natural inquiry was organised within metropolitan Spain and Portugal. The author insists on a more expansive, kaleidoscopic perspective in which metropolitan Spain, Portugal, and their empires were all integral parts of a wider cultural and intellectual world that encompassed much of early-modern imperial Europe—and in which a range of heterogeneous and variously theorised epistemic practices coexisted and intermittently jostled for adherents and authority. Important differences between the imperial cultures of inquiry in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires are here interpreted as consequences of institutional arrangements that took shape in response to the contingencies of early-modern colonialism. If metropolitan ways of knowing can be understood as more varied and less monolithic, then it becomes easier to discern their entanglements with the ostensibly distinct, colonial epistemologies they are so often imagined to have isolated and vanquished.

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