Mexican science at the crossroads of French imperialism and Maximilian’s empire (1864–1867) – Luz Fernanda Azuela (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)

When:
May 13, 2019 @ 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
2019-05-13T13:00:00+01:00
2019-05-13T14:00:00+01:00
Where:
Seminar Room 1
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Contact:
Laura Brassington

Mexico, which had been an independent nation since 1821, suffered a colonial takeover by the French between 1864 and 1867. During these years Mexican science was torn between the colonialist aims of the Napoleon III and the Hapsburg Empire of Maximilian that the French Intervention had enabled. Maximilian agreed with local scholars on the urgent need for scientific institutions that would foster practical research to support material and cultural progress. His main objective was his régime’s legitimation. Napoleon III, in contrast, wanted to boost France’s presence in the Americas, and restrain the expansionism of the United States. Both agreed on the need to exploit Mexican resources by promoting natural history, geography, geology and medicine.

Local advances in those disciplines had been pursued for over three centuries, a tradition of research practically unknown in Europe. This led to a distorted appreciation of Mexican scholarship and qualifications, especially from the French Scientific Commission. Conversely, Maximilian engaged with the local scientific community on several projects, whose excellence contradicted the French evaluation of their expertise.

This paper aims to explain the dismissal of Mexican scientific capabilities by the invaders, even when local insight and scholarship proved to be instrumental in achieving the foreigners’ goals. It will also point out the asymmetric nature of the conditions in which their collaboration took place, as an expression of imperial subjugation and eurocentrism. And it will echo Kapil Raj’s statements on the reconfiguration of ‘existing knowledges and specialized practices on both sides of the encounter’.