Measuring the New World: Enlightenment Science and South America

December 2, 2020
Measuring the New World: Enlightenment Science and South America

Prior to 1735, South America was terra incognita to manyEuropeans. But that year, the Paris Academy of Sciences sent amission to the Spanish American province of Quito (in present-dayEcuador) to study the curvature of the earth at the Equator.Equipped with quadrants and telescopes, the mission's participantsreferred to the transfer of scientific knowledge from Europe to theAndes as a "sacred fire" passing mysteriously through Europeanastronomical instruments to observers in South America.By taking an innovative interdisciplinary look at the traces ofthis expedition, Measuring the New World examines thetransatlantic flow of knowledge from West to East. Throughephemeral monuments and geographical maps, this book explores howthe social and cultural worlds of South America contributed to theproduction of European scientific knowledge during theEnlightenment. Neil Safier uses the notebooks of travelingphilosophers, as well as specimens from the expedition, to placethis particular scientific endeavor in the larger context of earlymodern print culture and the emerging intellectual category ofscientist as author.