RILAS Seminar Thurs 20 Oct, 4:00 pm

Lecture Room 3 LAS Building (86 Bedford Street South)

Dr. Miruna Achim (History, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Cuajimalpa, Mexico City)

From rustics to savants: the uses of native knowledge in the Mexican Enlightenment


This talk explores the ways indigenous knowledge about plant and animal remedies was gathered, classified, ‘translated’, tested, and circulated across wide networks of exchange for natural knowledge between Europe and the Americas. There has been much recent interest in the “bioprospecting” of local natural resources – medical and otherwise—by Europeans in the early modern world. However, some opacity continues to surround the description of how knowledge traveled. While the strategies employed by European travelers, missionaries, or naturalists have been well-documented, there has been less written on the role played by indigenous and creole intermediaries in this process. And yet, the transmission of knowledge between indigenous communities and the European cabinet was neither transparent nor natural, and often involved epistemological, linguistic, and religious obstacles. Drawing on a number of printed and manuscript sources, collections of indigenous remedies, written in places as diverse as Guatemala, the Yucatán, Chiapas, and Mexico City, in the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, I am interested in exploring how local intermediaries, like creoles scholars, sought to overcome such obstacles by observing indigenous uses of remedies, by studying indigenous languages and by producing natural histories and pharmacopeias in indigenous languages (Nahuatl and Maya Quiché, for instance). Ultimately, behind the creole participation in the transmission of indigenous remedies, one can point to more inclusive definitions of knowledge, which cut across oppositions between science and superstition, cabinet and field, center and periphery.