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Transatlantic hum: Mexican hummingbirds and the French encyclopedic project

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Salim Al-Gailani.

In October 1790, the Creole savant José Antonio Alzate published a review of the Encyclopédie Méthodique in his Mexico City-based periodical Gaceta de Literatura. The Encyclopédie Méthodique according to Alzate was “in matters concerning New Spain full of mistakes and errors that are not tolerable”. The Mexican wrote these lines after reading the articles about hummingbirds prepared by French naturalist Mauduyt de la Varenne. That the treatment of hummingbirds in an encyclopedia inspired such a severe verdict raises some questions. Was this the case of two traditions of natural historical practice clashing? Was it the case of an editor exercising his role to orient and advise his reading public? Or was it the case of a Creole defending a native species and, with it, vestiges of the Mexican Amerindian past? Through the analysis of Alzate’s writings, this paper attempts to explore possible motivations for his reaction against the French reference work.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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