Historia Naturalis Braziliae

Awarded to Dr. Mariana Francozo (Archaeology). October 12-14, 2016. Leiden

Illustrated title page. W. Piso and G. Marcgraf, 1648. Historia Naturalis Brasiliae. Leiden and Amsterdam: Francisicum Hackium and Elsevier

Illustrated title page. W. Piso and G. Marcgraf, 1648. Historia Naturalis Brasiliae. Leiden and Amsterdam: Francisicum Hackium and Elsevier

The book Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (HNB), originally published in 1648 by Willem Piso and George Marcgraf, is the one of the most remarkable products of the encounter between early modern European scholarship and South American indigenous knowledge. An in-folio volume of about 400 pages organized in an encyclopedic format, it brings together information about the natural world, linguistics, astronomy, and geography of South America. Piso and Marcgraf collected this information while working for the then governor of the Dutch colony in Brazil, Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen.

The constant confrontation of ancient and classical works with the empirical data from the New World place the HNB in the framework of early modern humanistic scholarship. The commercial and political interests of the Dutch in the Americas are also visibly present in the HNB, thereby highlighting the usefulness of the book as a guide for European explorers in the New World. Moreover, the HNB contains a wealth of information on indigenous uses of plants, native terminology for fauna and flora, as well as descriptions and comments on the ways of life and cultures of different indigenous groups in South America, and a vocabulary of the Tupi and Chilean Mapuche languages. Its editor, Johannes de Laet, had a fundamental role in transforming Piso and Marcgraf’s notes about Brazil and Chile into a comparative treatise on Atlantic knowledge systems, by including contrasting examples of plants and fruits found elsewhere in the Americas, and by highlighting the species imported from West Africa as a by-product of the transatlantic slave trade.

Often overshadowed by the overwhelming figure of its maecenas, Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen, the HNB embodies the intercultural connections that shaped practices of knowledge production in colonial settings across the globe. The aim of this seminar is to consider the HNB as a multi-layered, complex work that deserves to be scrutinized both as a historical document and as an object of intercultural heritage. Instead of considering the book a masterpiece of western science, we will interpret it as the product of intercultural encounters in the Atlantic world and as such provide new frameworks for discussion about both its historical and contemporary relevance. In this seminar, scholars will reflect on this unique cross-cultural treatise from three diverse but complementary perspectives: the biography of the book, the HNB as a source for natural history in its broadest form, and the uses of the HNB today.

This seminar is organized in collaboration with Prof. Tinde van Andel, Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Prof. Michiel van Groesen, Institute for History, Leiden University


Keynote Speaker: Prof. Manuela Carneiro da Cunha (Universidade de São Paulo and University of Chicago)

Dr. Mariana Françozo (Leiden University)
Prof. Tinde van Andel (Naturalis Biodiversity Center/Leiden University)
Prof. Michiel van Groesen (Leiden University)
Prof. Paul Smith (Leiden University)
Dr. Neil Safier (John Carter Brown Library)
Dr. Timothy D. Walker (University of Massachusetts Dartmouth)
Dr. Amy Buono (Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro)
Dr. Anjana Singh (Groningen University)
Jeroen Bos (independent scholar)
Alex Alsemgeest (independent scholar)
Dr. Eithne Carlin (Leiden University)
Adrian Gomes (Leiden University)
Dr. Aline da Cruz (Universidade Federal de Goiás)
Mireia Alcántara-Rodriguez, MSc (Naturalis Biodiversity Center)

Last Modified: 25-11-2016