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Friday Forum: Kathleen Cruz Gutierrez
December 3, 2021 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm
Sinopsis de familias y géneros de plantas leñosas de Filipinas (1883): The Art of Scientific Statecraft
Kathleen Cruz Gutierrez
Assistant Professor of History, University of California, Santa Cruz
Mellon Fellow (21-22) of the New York Botanical Garden Humanities Institute
In 1876, the Spanish colonial government founded the Comisión de la Flora Estadística y Forestal de Filipinas, a research body tasked with cataloging flora and surveying forests of the archipelago. In addition to the voluminous research reports produced by the body during its eight-year operation, the Comisión most notably published in 1883 Sinopsis de familias y géneros de plantas leñosas de Filipinas (Synopsis of families and genera of Philippine flowering plants) written by Catalán botanist Sebastián Vidal y Soler and illustrated by Filipino artist Regino García y Baza. As historian Resil B. Mojares has written, “No decade in Philippine intellectual history has been as productive and as consequential as the 1880s.” Mojares cites several ilustrado (enlightened intellectual) publications from the decade, including polymath José Rizal’s Noli me tangere and the books of politician-writers Pedro Paterno, Isabelo de los Reyes, and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera. To this library, Dr. Cruz Gutierrez adds Vidal and García’s Sinopsis.
For this talk, Cruz Gutierrez focuses on the publication’s visuality. Cruz Gutierrez conducted a formal analysis of García’s illustrated atlas, comprised of one hundred lithograph plates depicting roughly 1900 plant figures, and read the atlas against the intellectual milieu of Spanish colonial botany in the Philippines. By comparing García’s illustrations to others he completed on behalf of the Augustinian-backed reissue of Francisco Manuel Blanco’s Flora de Filipinas and other illustrated natural science publications of the time, Cruz Gutierrez argues that Sinopsis captures the apex of secular Spanish botany at the end of the nineteenth century through its visually distinctive and classificatory quality. Sinopsis furthermore enacted a scientific statecraft for Spanish colonial botany and Philippine plant life through García’s artistic techniques. An invitation for heightened imperial scientific investigation, Sinopsis became an intellectual and diplomatic tool to further Iberian intellectual undertakings in tropical terrain.
This event is free and open to the public. A recording of this talk will be available on the CSEAS YouTube channel.