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ERC starting grant for Mariana de Campos Françozo

Mariana Françozo has been awarded a Starting Grant by the European Research Council. With this 1.5 million euro grant Dr. Françozo and her research team will investigate the transformation of the knowledge of diverse Brazilian indigenous peoples into a body of knowledge that became part of the Western scholarly canon. The BRASILIAE project will explore how European science is constructed in intercultural settings.

Historia Naturalis Brasiliae

The project takes as its central focus the book Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (HNB), published in 1648 by Piso and Marcgraf, during the period of the Dutch colony in Brazil (1624-1654). The HNB is an encyclopedia that brings together information about the natural world, linguistics, and geography of Brazil as understood and experienced by indigenous peoples as well as enslaved Africans. With her research team, Dr. Françozo will ask how indigenous knowledge was appropriated and transformed into European science by focusing on ethnobotanics, ethnozoology, and indigenous material culture.

An important innovative aspect of the project is that it studies a traditional historical primary source –  the HNB – thorough both a historical viewpoint and also a contemporary indigenous perspective. In order to do so, the project brings together an interdisciplinary, international, and multi-cultural team of experts that includes anthropologists, historians, botanists, zoologists, linguists, and indigenous experts.

The project will be carried out with the collaboration of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden (in particular with Prof. dr. Tinde van Andel), the National Museum of World Cultures, the Netherlands, and the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi in Brazil.


Since most original copies of the HNB and its associated materials are kept in European museums and archives, this project is timely and relevant in light of the growing concern for the democratization of heritage. The current debate about the societal role of publicly-funded cultural institutions across Europe argues for the importance of multi-vocality in cultural and political processes. By working together with indigenous experts, this project proposes a more inclusive interpretation and use of the materials in these institutions.

As  preparation  for  the  BRASILIAE  project,  and with generous support from the Leiden Global Interactions profile area, in  October  2016  Mariana Françozo  organised an advanced seminar at  Leiden University with scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds in order to discuss the current state-of-the-art as well as potential future studies on the HNB.  The conversation now continues! 

The John Carter Brown Library Fellowship

Mariana C. Françozo has (also) been awarded an Almeida Family/John M. Monteiro Indigenous Studies Fellowship for a four-month residential fellowship at the prestigious John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island. The JCB is an internationally renowned center for the study of the history of the Americas before ca. 1825 and holds one of the most impressive collections of primary sources pertaining to this period. Mariana Françozo will carry out her research project “Indigenous Knowledge in the Natural Histories of Colonial Ibero-America: the Historia Naturalis Brasiliae and its predecessors” focusing on a selection of these rare books at the JCB.

The project compares the HNB with two earlier works on the natural history of Ibero-America: Nicolas  Monardes'  natural  history  of  the  New  World (Seville, 1565) and Francisco  Hernandez's  treatise  on  the  natural  world  of New Spain (Mexico, 1615  as well as the original manuscript version). Monardes’ and Hernandez’s oeuvre are some of the most influential natural histories of Spanish America,  and  as  such  will  be  used to  test  the  hypothesis  that  the  HNB  relied  on  these authoritative sources as a model, but innovated in the comprehensive ways it incorporated and used indigenous knowledge of the Tupi and other peoples in Brazil. Such a comparison will also reveal the potential of this seminal volume as a source to reconstruct the indigenous strategies and forms of engagement with the Dutch and Portuguese  colonial  powers in  colonial Brazil.

The project is an investigation of the history of natural history in colonial Ibero-America, and as such provides a historiographical backdrop for the development of the ERC BRASILIAE project.

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