Joseph Gumilla

Joseph Gumilla

Joseph Gumilla (1686–1750), a Spanish Jesuit, spent most of his life New Granada (modern-day Columbia and parts of Venezuela). He published a natural history of the Rio Orinoco area, entitled El Orinoco ilustrado, in 1741. Dumbarton Oaks has a later edition of this work, published in 1791—several decades after the suppression and expulsion of the Jesuits that began in the mid-eighteenth century.

Members of the Society of Jesus enjoyed access, through their missionary activities, to regions controlled by Spain, France, Portugal, and China. The Society was a major political and commercial entity; it was also a significant engine for the creation and transmission of information during the Enlightenment. The primary goal of any mission was the conversion of new Catholics, but many of these missions were additionally hubs for activities such as translation and scientific observation.

The map of the Orinoco, which replicates one from the 1741 edition, shows the extent of the Jesuit presence in the region in the early eighteenth century. Like many other explorers, Gumilla did not limit himself to one area of interest. His book abounds with observations of plants, animals, birds, and geographical features, in addition to discussion of the Jesuit efforts to convert local people. Margaret R. Ewalt writes, “Father Gumilla consciously appropriates wonder and blends natural philosophy and moral philosophy, physics and metaphysics, within a scientific and religious discourse of wonder, where scientia as knowledge of nature leads to Scientia as knowledge of the Author of nature.”

 


Erwalt, Margaret R. “Father Gumilla, Crocodile Hunter? The Function of Wonder in El Orinoco ilustrado.” In El Saber de los jesuitas, historias naturales y el Nuevo Mundo, edited by Luis Millones Figueroa and Domingo Ledezma, 303–33. Teci, textos y estudios coloniales y de La Independencia 12. Madrid: Iberoamericana; Frankfurt am Main: Vervuert, 2005.

Harris, Steven J. “Jesuit Scientific Activity in the Overseas Missions, 1540–1773.” Isis 96, no. 1 (March 1, 2005): 71–79.

Tudisco, Anthony. “America in Some Travelers, Historians, and Political Economists of the Spanish Eighteenth Century.” The Americas 15, no. 1 (July 1, 1958): 1–22.

 
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