Investigating the colonies: native geological travellers in the Portuguese Empire in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries
S. F. De M. Figueirôa, C. P. Da Silva, E. M. Pataca, 2007. "Investigating the colonies: native geological travellers in the Portuguese Empire in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries", Four Centuries of Geological Travel: The Search for Knowledge on Foot, Bicycle, Sledge and Camel, P. N. Wyse Jackson
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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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In the last four centuries geologists have traversed the globe, searching for economically important materials or simply to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. Geologists have often been at the vanguard of scientific exploration.
The microscopist Robert Hooke explored the Isle of Wight, and Charles Darwin the Cape Verde islands and parts of South America. The volcanic wonders of Italy and central France attracted native and foreign visitors including Lyell and Murchison. The Tyrrell brothers faced great hardship in northern Canada, as did the actor and mineralogist Charles Lewis Giesecke in Greenland. The development of Sydney, Australia depended on finding limestone for building. French geologists relied on camels in the Sahara, and Grenville Cole trusted his tricycle to carry him across Europe.
Four Centuries of Geological Travel: The Search for Knowledge on Foot, Bicycle, Sledge and Camel focuses on the complexities of geological exploration and will be of particular interest to Earth scientists, historians of science and to the general reader interested in science.