Science by regimento: Standardising Long-Distance Control and New Spaces of Knowledge in Early Modern Portuguese Cosmography

in Early Science and Medicine
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European expansion produced great transformations in the way modern societies were organised as well as in the management of new practices and spaces of knowledge. This article analyses the ways in which the Iberian world responded to such transformations through the creation of a series of control mechanisms that constitute the prehistory of the modern ways of standardising science. This article is thus a contribution to discussions of the normative and institutional development involving long-distance control that took place amongst the expansionist powers of early modern Europe. It examines one of the normative artefacts implemented by the Portuguese crown from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century, the Regimento do Cosmógrafo-Mor (1592), the visible face of a complex process of normalisation, control and circulation of information, which ultimately regulated the nautical and cosmographical practice of a long-distance global network. For this reason, this article refers to science by regimento, science that is produced and performed under clear directives. Through the study of this document I aim to highlight not only how the Portuguese overseas enterprise was organised, but also how its technical and scientific configuration, which regulated navigation in the Atlantic, the use of astrolabes, and the directions to depict previously unseen plants and animals, contributed to defining science in early modern Iberian societies.

Science by regimento: Standardising Long-Distance Control and New Spaces of Knowledge in Early Modern Portuguese Cosmography

in Early Science and Medicine




 See John Law“On the Methods of Long-Distance Control: Vessels, Navigation and the Portuguese Route to India,” Sociological Review Monograph32 (1986) 234–263. See also idem“On the Social Explanation of Technical Change: The Case of the Portuguese Maritime Expansion” Technology and Culture 28 (1987) 227–252; and idem “Technology and Heterogeneous Engineering: The Case of Portuguese Expansion” in Wiebe E. Bijker Thomas P. Hughes and Trevor Pinch eds. The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology (Cambridge MA 1989) 111–134.


 Rafael Moreira“A Escola de Arquitectura do Paço da Ribeira e a Academia de Matemáticas de Madrid,” in Actas do II Simpósio Luso-Espanhol de História da Arte: As relações artísticas entre Portugal e Espanha na época dos Descobrimentos (Coimbra 1987) 65–77 72.


 A. Teixeira da Mota“Os regimentos do Cosmógrafo-Mor” 31.


 Published in Teixeira da Mota“Os regimentos do Cosmógrafo-Mor” 52–53. These letters were published in Sousa Viterbo Trabalhos náuticos dos Portuguezes part I 51–377; and Teixeira da Mota “Os regimentos do Cosmógrafo-Mor” 52–69.


 A. Teixeira da Mota“Some Notes on the Organization of Hydrographical Services in Portugal before the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century,” Imago Mundi28 (1976) 51–6051. Similarly to the Casa de la Contratación the Indian Council the Dutch East India Company and the Society of Jesus the Armazéns functioned as long-distance corporations. See Steven J. Harris “Long-Distance Corporations Big Sciences and the Geography of Knowledge” Configurations 6 (1998) 269–304. See also S.J. Harris “Confession-Building Long-Distance Networks and the Organization of Jesuit Science” Early Science and Medicine 1 (1996) 287–318.


 A. Teixeira da Mota“Some Notes on the Organization of Hydrographical Services in Portugal” 54.


 Amélia Polónia“Mestres e pilotos das carreiras ultramarinas (1596–1648). Subsídios para o seu estudo,” Revista da Faculdade de Letras (Porto) 13 (1995) 271–353 272.


 Teixeira da Mota“Os regimentos do Cosmógrafo-Mor” 33. See also Rita Cortez de Matos “O Cosmógrafo-Mor: o ensino náutico em Portugal nos séculos XVI e XVII” Oceanos 38 (1999) 55–64. In the same way the Cátedra de Cosmografía [Chair of Cosmography] was established in 1552 at the Casa de la Contratación in order to improve scientific training of the pilots and in 1582 the Academy of Mathematics with similar intention. Not coincidentally the syllabus of the Chair of Mathematics at the Seville institution holds great similarities with the Lição de Matemática of the Chief Cosmographer in Lisbon. On the Spanish Ordenanzas of 1552 and the Cátedra de Cosmografía see María Isabel Vicente and Mariano Esteban Aspectos de la ciencia aplicada; Alison D. Sandman “Cosmographers versus Pilots: Navigation Cosmography and the State in Early Modern Spain”; Antonio Sánchez “Los artífices del Plus Ultra: pilotos cartógrafos y cosmógrafos en la Casa de la Contratación de Sevilla durante el siglo XVI” Hispania 70 (2010) 607–632 623–628; and A. Sánchez “Los métodos pedagógicos de la corona española para disciplinas la experiencia de los pilotos en el siglo XVI” Anuario de Estudios Americanos 67 (2010) 133–156.

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