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South America

January 01, 2007


The historiography of sciences in Brazil frequently analysed the role and the meaning of foreign—predominantly European—travellers in the country, stressing their discoveries and contributions to science. But these texts systematically omitted the ‘native’ travellers, those who were commissioned by the Portuguese government to survey the territories of the Portuguese empire, especially at the end of the eighteenth century. These expeditions, however, deserve careful attention: they were not sporadic nor dispersed initiatives, but rather co-ordinated, essential parts of a large program of scientific reform and economical reconstruction of the kingdom.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the Portuguese elite drew upon Enlightenment ideals to reform sectors of the policy considered fundamental to economic growth. The Lisbon Royal Academy of Science (Academia Real de Ciências de Lisboa) was founded in 1779, and from the beginning turned into the focus of a far-reaching policy to promote the more rational exploitation of nature within Portugal and its colonies. The movement reflected a broad awareness of science, conceived as systematic, practical, and useful inquiry.

The academy developed plans to improve agriculture and mining through applied science, and the colonial territories were methodically investigated. The expeditions launched to attend these goals—sometimes entitled ‘Viagens Philosophicas’ (Philosophical Travels)—collected thousands of samples (geological, mineralogical, botanical, and zoological), mapped out thousands of linear and square metres of rivers and lands, and produced dozens of Memoirs, that filled the Museum of Ajuda and the shelves of the Royal Academy of Science.

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Geological Society, London, Special Publications

Four Centuries of Geological Travel: The Search for Knowledge on Foot, Bicycle, Sledge and Camel

P. N. Wyse Jackson
P. N. Wyse Jackson
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
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Geological Society of London
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January 01, 2007




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