Spanish Science in the Age of the New

In: A Companion to the Spanish Renaissance
Author: William Eamon

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The Early Modern age may be described as the Age of the New. Renaissance peoples’ fascination with novelty had innumerable objects, none more alluring than the wonders of nature. Whether in the form of exotic plants and animals from the New World or the long-hidden “secrets of nature,” novelty was a singular feature of Renaissance science. This chapter describes the spaces, institutions, and personalities that shaped Spanish science in the Age of the New, showing that Spanish science differed from science in the rest of Europe in that scientific activity in Spain was driven by the needs of the Spanish empire. The most creative and original science in Early Modern Spain took place not in universities but in the institutions that the monarchy established to keep its vast empire running: the Casa de la Contratación, the Imperial College of Madrid, and the Council of the Indies. Spanish missionaries, the Jesuits in particular, also contributed to science, producing volumes of observations about New World nature and indigenous cultures. The science of comparative ethnology emerged from the Spanish imperial context.