“A lucid, forceful, and beautifully written study of faith, nature, and politics in the early modern Hispanic monarchy. This is an important book that urges political philosophy to deal more squarely with empire’s complicated historical relationship to ecology and knowledge.”—John Slater, author of Todos son hojas: Literatura e Historia Natural en el Barroco español
“A compelling account of the scholarly Spanish churchmen whose natural histories of the New World shaped early modern empires and Enlightenment science, and whose influence on our thought only gains importance as our world warms.”—Joshua Simon, author of The Ideology of Creole Revolution: Imperialism and Independence in American and Latin American Political Thought

This book is freely available in an open access edition thanks to TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem)—a collaboration of the Association of American Universities, the Association of University Presses, and the Association of Research Libraries—and the generous support of Virginia Tech.

In Writing the New World: The Politics of Natural History in the Early Spanish Empire, Mauro Caraccioli examines the natural history writings of early Spanish missionaries, using these texts to argue that colonial Latin America was fundamental in the development of modern political thought. Revealing their narrative context, religious ideals, and political implications, Caraccioli shows how these sixteenth-century works promoted a distinct genre of philosophical wonder in service of an emerging colonial social order.

Caraccioli discusses narrative techniques employed by well-known figures such as Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo and Bartolomé de Las Casas as well as less-studied authors including Bernardino de Sahagún, Francisco Hernández, and José de Acosta. More than mere catalogues of the natural wonders of the New World, these writings advocate mining and molding untapped landscapes, detailing the possibilities for extracting not just resources from the land but also new moral values from indigenous communities. Analyzing the intersections between politics, science, and faith that surface in these accounts, Caraccioli shows how the portrayal of nature served the ends of imperial domination.

Integrating the fields of political theory, environmental history, Latin American literature, and religious studies, this book showcases Spain’s role in the intellectual formation of modernity and Latin America’s place as the crucible for the Scientific Revolution. Its insights are also relevant to debates about the interplay between politics and environmental studies in the Global South today.

Mauro José Caraccioli is assistant professor of political science and core faculty in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) at Virginia Tech.

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