Science in the Vanished Arcadia

Knowledge of Nature in the Jesuit Missions of Paraguay and Río de la Plata


In Science in the Vanished Miguel de Asúa provides the first modern comprehensive account of Jesuit science in the missions of Paraguay and the River Plate region during the 17th and 18th centuries. Focusing on individual Jesuits and underlining the relationships of their work to the religious goals of the Society of Jesus, the book covers the disciplines of natural history, cartography, medical botany, astronomy and the topics pursued by the former missionaries in their Italian exile. Based on many so far unexplored manuscripts and a vast corpus of primary sources, the book argues the existence of a tradition of research on nature consistent with universal Jesuit science and at the same time original in its articulation of Western learning and aboriginal lore on nature.
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Biographical Note

Miguel de Asúa, M.D. (1976) University of Buenos Aires, Ph.D. (1992) University of Notre Dame, is a historian of science at the National Research Council for Science and Technology (Argentina). He has published extensively on Medieval and Latin American science.

Review Quote

Das Buch [...] ist eine sehr detaillierte Bestandsaufnahme jesuitischer Wissensgenerierung im La Plata [...]. Die eigentlichen Stärken des Buches finden sich [...] in all den vielen, detaillierten Beschreibungen der Verwohenheit von Wissen und Praxis [...]. Eine besondere Stärke des Buches liegt [...] auch in der systematisch diskutierten Frage nach dem indigenen Anteil am jesuitischen Wissen in jedem einzelnen Kapitel. Ich wünsche dieser Studie darum eine grosse Leserschaft.
Renate Dürr (Tübingen) in: Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 39 (2016), p. 190-191.

With its treatment of natural history, medicine, cartography, astronomy, and practical science, Science in the Vanished Arcadia provides a valuable overview Jesuit scientific production in Paraguay. It will most certainly be a valuable resource for scholars of Jesuit science and the Guaraní missions for years to come.
Julia Sarreal, Arizona State University in: Journal of Jesuit Studies 2:1.

De Asúa se abocó a un estudio sistemático que constituye el primer relato abarcador y moderno de la ciencia jesuítica en territorio sudamericano. [...] Mediante una revisión de manuscritos inéditos y una extensiva bibliografía de fuentes primarias, el autor argumenta con solidez la existencia de una tradición en la investigación de la naturaleza que está arraigada en la ciencia jesuítica, al mismo tiempo que es original en su articulación con el aprendizaje típico y la tradición aborigen sobre lo natural.
Alejandro Manrique in: La Capital de Mar del Plata, 6-3-2016, p.3.

Es fácil comprender que el libro de Miguel de Asúa se transformará en el gran libro de referencia sobre la ciencia en las misiones jesuitas de Paraguay y el Río de la Plata. Una gran cantidad de información, un análisis pormenorizado, pero a la vez una lectura amena, lo transforman en un
clásico instantáneo.

Adrián Viale in: Rey Desnudo, Año IV, No. 7, Primavera 2015, p. 49-55.

Table of contents

Acknowledgements xi
List of Maps and Figures xv
Abbreviations xvii
Introduction 1
1 Some Historiographical Remarks 4
2 The Jesuits in Paraguay and the River Plate 8
3 A Brief Survey of Events 13
4 Life in the Reductions 19
1 Natural Histories 25
1 The Jesuit Natural Histories of Paraquaria 29
2 Textual Organization 36
2.1 Organizing 36
2.2 Listing 40
2.3 Naming 46
3 The Natural Histories 55
3.1 Lozano and the Wondrous Nature of Paraguay 55
3.2 Paucke: “I Tell What I Have Seen” 61
3.3 Sánchez Labrador’s Catalogue of the Natural World of
4 Writing on Nature in Paraquaria 80
4.1 A Jesuit Genre of Writing 81
4.2 Theatrum naturae 86
4.3 The Jesuit Works and Eighteenth-Century Natural History 88
4.4 Native Lore on Nature 92
2 Herbals 96
1 Jesuits Medicine and Pharmacy in Eighteenth-Century Paraguay and
Río de la Plata 99
2 The Major Works 113
2.1 Montenegro 113
2.2 Aperger 115
2.3 A Jungle of Herbals 117
2.3.1 Manuscripts Containing Montenegro’s Materia medica
2.3.2 Manuscripts Containing Versions of Montenegro’s Materia medica
attributed to Aperger 123
2.3.3 Manuscript History 125
2.4 Montenegro’s Herbal. European Pharmacopoeia and Guaraní
Plant Lore
2.4.1 Identification of Plants 130
2.4.2 Pictures 131
2.4.3 Montenegro’s Materia medica misionera, the Guaraní and
the “Galenization” of Native Herbal Lore 134
2.5 Jesuits and Guaraní Healers 138
2.6 A Medical Handbook for the Missions 141
3 The Lost and Minor Works 147
3.1 A Guaraní receptarium 148
3.2 Medicinal Botany in the Paraguay Natural 150
3.3 The English Surgeon 151
3.4 A Book of surgery 157
4 The Herbal Tradition in Paraquaria 159
3 Maps 164
1 Quiroga 174
2 Astronomical Instruments 177
3 Charting Patagonia 179
3.1 Quiroga’s Maps and Observations 181
4 An Expedition to the Mato Grosso 185
5 The Chair of Mathematics 187
6 The Sources of the Paraguay River 189
7 Maps and Politics 194
8 Maps and Mission 199
9 Maps of the Productive Structure of the Missions 202
10 Jesuits, Natives, and Maps 204
4 The Heavens 211
1 The Stars Lead to Kircher 212
1.1 Comets and Eclipses 213
1.2 The Mission by the Lake Nahuel Huapi 219
2 Buenaventura Suárez S.J. 222
2.1 Suárez’s Telescopes 226
2.2 Observations from the Mission of San Cosme 228
2.3 A Lunar Calendar 232
2.4 Suárez and the Royal Society 235
2.5 Longitude 242
2.6 Teaching of Astronomy in Córdoba 247
2.7 Theory 251
2.8 The Guaraní as Instrument Makers 253
3 Missionary Astronomy 257
5 Science in the Italian Exile 259
1 Juárez’s Vatican Garden of the Indies 261
1.1 The Osservazioni 269
1.2 Juárez’s Botanical Outlook 275
2 Spiders and Electric Fish 279
2.1 Jesuits and Electric Fish 283
2.2 The Immediate Background of Termeyer’s Experiments 285
2.3 A Fishy Anatomy 288
2.4 Experiments among the Mocoví 290
2.5 A Fluid Discussion 292
2.6 An American Postscript 295
3 Looking at the Heavens through Someone Else’s Eyes 296
3.1 The Cádiz Quadrant 300
4 The Cultural Transplant 307
6 A Last Word 310
1 Empirical Reference 310
2 Science and Religion 314
3 Science and Native Lore on Nature 315
Appendix 319
Bibliography 321
Index 365


All those interested in Jesuit science, missionary science, the interactions of science and religion and also those concerned broadly with Latin American science and Jesuit history in Iberian America.


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