Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Women Navigating the Iberian Empires

In recent years, the historiography of the early modern globalization has given increasing emphasis to the role of women. However, there are still little-known aspects due to the almost totally exclusive male focus. Among these topics, there is the presence of women on board transoceanic voyages. The difficulty of studying the women’s presence on early modern vessels comes mainly from the documentary silence. Indeed, women’s presence on board ships was considered very inconvenient. Women on board could represent an incitement to the ever-burning sexual appetites of the sailors, inducing them to sin. In addition to this, disorders could arise because of jealousy related to potential love affairs between women passengers and the crew.

Nonetheless, some women did travel on ships. We should cite the case of the first women who disguised as men managed to reach India on board Francisco de Almeida’s fleet, in 1505. They were Isabella Pereira, Lianor, Branca and Inês Rodrigues. We can only imagine the marvel in their eyes while reaching the Far East after a dangerous and long journey. Other categories of female passengers traveling to the West or the East were prostitutes and nuns, servants following their masters, or indigenous slaves brought back to Europe, or snatched from Africa for the Americas. The movements, it must be remembered, did not go in one direction only, and thus we cannot be restricted to a Eurocentric view.

A fascinating case is the story of Sor Jerónima de la Asunción, who in 1620, together with her Franciscan Sisters, left her convent in Toledo to go found the first female convent in the Philippines. The group of nuns first crossed the Atlantic and stopped in Mexico. They later embarked the Manila Galleon to cross the Pacific Ocean and reach the Philippines. This journey is narrated in a very rare source written by a companion of Sor Jerónima, Sor Ana de Cristo, a long manuscript account of their fifteen-month odyssey.

This is just one example among many that exist. Women, although unrecognized, paid a great tribute of blood to the global European expansion. These few lines are not enough to exhaust an extremely complex subject but they may serve as a cue to deepen and learn more. [David Salomoni]

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Artisanal and Theoretical Knowledge in the Renaissance

Who is right, the renowned scholar or the curious traveler?

Reading the 1596 Itinerario by Jan Huygen van Linschoten (1563-1611), Bernard Paludanus (1550-1633) annotations to the main chapters on the several Asian naturalia, like black pepper and pineapple, amongst others, are everywhere. Each chapter starts with Linschoten’s brief description of the product, where to find the best produce and where to sell it better, usually ending with a short description of its medical uses. In practically every chapter, Paludanus wrote his annotations based on his academic knowledge. However, on several occasions, Paludanus contradicts Linschoten. Why did this happen?

Both relied on the book of Garcia de Orta (1501-1568) about the Drugs of India. But, while Linschoten used the Portuguese edition of 1563, adding also his personal observations of several naturalia, Paludanus relied essentially on the Dutch edition by Carolus Clusius (1526-1609). Since the edition by Clusius had several differences from the first Portuguese edition, one could suspect that this would explain the discrepancies between Linschoten and Paludanus.

Nevertheless, what prevails in the Itinerario is the growing importance of artisanal knowledge. This process is one of the distinctive marks of Renaissance, as it has been highlighted in several studies of History of Science. European maritime expansion brought about, for the first time in a wide scale, the direct contact between learned academics and less educated people, as the Iberian case demonstrates. Sailors and pilots had to present their practical problems to theoreticians and academic court officers. There were often contradictions and open conflicts between the two. Still, soon cooperation between both became a reality in institutions like the Portuguese Casa da Índia or the Spanish Casa de la Contratación.

The same exact process is present in the Itinerario. Although contradiction between Linschoten and Paludanus stands out, both collaborated in the writing. The Doctor was delighted to learn from Linschoten’s experience with the naturalia of Asia and Linschoten profited from Paludanus’ public support for the publication. While in several cases Paludanus scientific notes have proved to be unfounded, the interest of this example remains, since it corroborates an on-going process: the growing relevance of artisanal knowledge at the end of the 16th century.
[Nuno Vila-Santa]

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Italian People and the Iberian Maritime Expansion

No historian would deny the role of the Italians in the great early modern voyages of exploration. However, attention has always been disproportionately focused on the great names, like Christopher Colombus, Giovanni da Verrazzano, Amerigo Vespucci, Giovanni Caboto or Antonio Pigafetta.

Less prominent figures, though, for whom individual narratives were not produced, were far from irrelevant, and it is worth rediscovering them briefly. Among them we find explorers, sailors, and narrators who have contributed to our knowledge of the Iberian maritime expansion.

As early as 1364, the Genoese sailor Nicoloso da Recco and the Florentine Angiolino del Tegghia de’ Corbizzi had arrived to the Canary Islands in the service of Afonso IV, king of Portugal. Less than a century later, in 1455 and 1456, the Venetian Alvise Ca’ Da Mosto, together with the Genoese Antoniotto Usodimare, explored the mouth of the Gambia River, in West Africa, in the service of the Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator. Later in 1502, it is thanks to Matteo da Bergamo, an Italian commercial agent, almost a forerunner of Antonio Pigafetta, that we have much information about Vasco da Gama’s second voyage to India, including the slaughter of the Arab ship Miri. Another Italian commercial agent was the Tuscan Giovanni da Empoli, who went to India in 1503 on the armada led by Afonso de Albuquerque. Da Empoli left detailed accounts of his journey. Later he went on other Portuguese missions, eventually dying of cholera in 1515.

However, the journey to which the Italians perhaps made the greatest contribution was the first circumnavigation of the world led by Ferdinand Magellan. In addition to the famous chronicler Pigafetta, twenty Italians were on board the five ships that left Seville in 1519, almost 10% of all participants. Among them was the helmsman of the Nau Trinidad, Leon Pancaldo from Savona, a family friend of Christopher Columbus.

The Italian participation in the Iberian discoveries was not limited to the 16th century. Between 1786 and 1788, another Tuscan, Alessandro Malaspina, made a voyage around the world as a captain in the service of the Spanish crown. From 1789 to 1794, Malaspina also undertook a scientific expedition throughout the Pacific Ocean, exploring and mapping much of the west coast of the Americas from Cape Horn to the Gulf of Alaska, crossing to Guam and the Philippines, and stopping in New Zealand, Australia, and Tonga.

Even today the Marina Militare Italiana, the Marinha Portuguesa and the Armada Española continue to collaborate in international missions in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, for example through the EUROMARFOR naval force created in 1995, renewing in the present the ancient fellowship of these queens of the sea. [David Salomoni]