Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment

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Between 1777 and 1816, botanical expeditions crisscrossed the vast Spanish empire in an ambitious project to survey the flora of much of the Americas, the Caribbean, and the Philippines. While these voyages produced written texts and compiled collections of specimens, they dedicated an overwhelming proportion of their resources and energy to the creation of visual materials. European and American naturalists and artists collaborated to manufacture a staggering total of more than 12,000 botanical illustrations. Yet these images have remained largely overlooked—until now.In this lavishly illustrated volume, Daniela Bleichmar gives this archive its due, finding in these botanical images a window into the worlds of Enlightenment science, visual culture, and empire. Through innovative interdisciplinary scholarship that bridges the histories of science, visual culture, and the Hispanic world, Bleichmar uses these images to trace two related histories: the little-known history of scientific expeditions in the Hispanic Enlightenment and the history of visual evidence in both science and administration in the early modern Spanish empire. As Bleichmar shows, in the Spanish empire visual epistemology operated not only in scientific contexts but also as part of an imperial apparatus that had a long-established tradition of deploying visual evidence for administrative purposes.

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Review

“Lavishly illustrated and lucidly written. . . . Bleichmar’s arresting Visible Empire contributes to the ongoing recovery of the formative—but hitherto little-known—role that Spain and its colonies played in this crucial period in the history of science.”

(Science)

“Bleichmar uses this vast (and gorgeous) archive of botanical images assembled by Spanish natural history expeditions to explore the connections between natural history, visual culture, and empire in the eighteenth century Hispanic world. In beautifully argued chapters, Bleichmar explores the ways that eighteenth century natural history expeditions were grounded in a visual epistemology where observation and representation were powerful tools for negotiating both scientific and imperial spheres.”

(Carla Nappi New Books in Science, Technology, and Society)

“This exciting book studies the visual contexts of empire from a natural history perspective. . . . Visualizing, collecting, classifying, and transporting nature and human culture are all examined here in a historical and philosophical context that sheds new light on science, art, and society. Highly recommended.”

(S. Hammer, Boston University Choice)

“[B]eautifully illustrated and concisely written. . . . Visible Empire has much to offer.”

(Hugh Cagle, University of Utah Itinerario)

Visible Empire is a necessary and important contribution to the history of natural history and exploration. Meticulously researched, gracefully written, and always sensitive to disciplinary methodology . . . it shows how careful attention to both the local and the broader historical contexts can inform our understanding of scientific practices and the fashioning of epistemological approaches. Lavishly illustrated and beautifully produced, this book is an example of interdisciplinarity at its best.”

(María M. Portuondo Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences)

“The book is rich in detail and it contains many beautiful examples of botanical illustrations from the eighteenth century. Without a doubt Bleichmar’s work is a significant contribution to the history of science and art history. It will be a staple read for anyone interested in natural history and visual culture.”

(Efram Sera-Shriar, York University, Canada British Journal for the History of Science)

“Timely, thought-provoking, and beautiful.”

(H. J. Noltie Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society)

“Carefully researched and lavishly illustrated, . . . Bleichmar’s book is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of eighteenth-century Spanish science and early modern visual culture. It presents a detailed and engaging narrative which challenges centre-periphery approaches to colonial science and illuminates the complex networks of exchange in operation in the Spanish Empire. Visible Empire adds to a growing literature on the study of natural history in the Hispanic world. It would appeal to readers with an interest in colonial science or botanical illustration.”

(Helen Cowie Archives of Natural History)

“A valuable contribution to a growing scholarly literature that questions the problematic notion of center (Spain) versus periphery (Spanish Americas) in order to examine the collaborative interchange of ideas and information across the Atlantic.”

(Magali M. Carrera, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth American Historical Review)

“An important contribution to the history of science, visual culture, and imperial Spain. In it, readers from different disciplines will find much food for thought. . . . Visible Empire clearly demonstrates that art history and visual culture studies have much to contribute to larger discussions about politics and knowledge production in the early modern Spanish world.”

(Mónica Domínguez Torres, University of Delaware William and Mary Quarterly)

About the Author

Daniela Bleichmar is assistant professor in the Departments of Art History and History at the University of Southern California.

F23534 Spanish/ Fondo de Cultura Economica exp, 01/26/2022

Between 1777 and 1816, botanical expeditions crisscrossed the vast Spanish empire in an ambitious project to survey the flora of much of the Americas, the Caribbean, and the Philippines. While these voyages produced written texts and compiled collections of specimens, they dedicated an overwhelming proportion of their resources and energy to the creation of visual materials. European and American naturalists and artists collaborated to manufacture a staggering total of more than 12,000 botanical illustrations. Yet these images have remained largely overlooked—until now.In this lavishly illustrated volume, Daniela Bleichmar gives this archive its due, finding in these botanical images a window into the worlds of Enlightenment science, visual culture, and empire. Through innovative interdisciplinary scholarship that bridges the histories of science, visual culture, and the Hispanic world, Bleichmar uses these images to trace two related histories: the little-known history of scientific expeditions in the Hispanic Enlightenment and the history of visual evidence in both science and administration in the early modern Spanish empire. As Bleichmar shows, in the Spanish empire visual epistemology operated not only in scientific contexts but also as part of an imperial apparatus that had a long-established tradition of deploying visual evidence for administrative purposes.

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