BRASILIAE. Indigenous Knowledge in the Making of Science: Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (1648).
Investigating the intercultural connections that shaped practices of knowledge production in colonial Dutch Brazil.
- 2018 - 2022
- Mariana De Campos Francozo
- ERC Starting Grant
One book, multiple histories
The BRASILIAE project is an interdisciplinary study of the role of indigenous knowledge in the making of science. We investigate how indigenous knowledge was appropriated and transformed into European science by focusing on ethnobotany, ethnozoology, and indigenous material culture. Situated at the intersection of history and anthropology, its central research objective is to understand the transmission and transformation of information, skills, and practices of South American indigenous peoples into a body of knowledge that later came to be assimilated as part of a distinctively Western scholarly canon.
Our project takes the book Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (HNB), originally published in 1648 (Piso and Marcgraf 1648), as its central focus. The HNB is one of the most comprehensive products of the encounter between early modern European scholarship and South American indigenous knowledge. In an encyclopaedic format, it brings together textual and visual information about the natural world, linguistics, and geography of colonial Brazil as understood and experienced by Luso-Brazilians, coastal Tupi indigenous populations, and enslaved Africans. Its method of construction embodies the intercultural connections that shaped practices of knowledge production in colonial settings across the globe.
Material & Methods
The BRASILIAE team investigates the making of the HNB in historical perspective, exploring the material legacies of the intercultural and interdisciplinary context in which the HNB came into existence. While in Brazil, Piso and Marcgraf compiled a great volume of notes, records, drawings, and sketches of flora, fauna and local people, that would later be partially used to compose the book. A significant amount of these associated materials has survived in different European institutions, such as the National Museum of Denmark, the Natural History Museum in Denmark, and the Jagiellonian Library in Krakow, Poland. Likewise, European ethnographic museums hold thousands of indigenous objects related to knowledge-making practices. We seek to understand how such objects played a part in the transmission, from Colonial Brazil to Europe, of native knowledge regarding plants and animals.
This research focuses on plant knowledge retentions and transformations in Brazil, from an ethnobotanical, historical and linguistic perspective. To this aim, we 1) identify the plant species described and depicted in the HNB, and the several flora paintings in the natural history images produced by Marcgraf, Eckhout, and others; 2) analyse how these plants are used, named and seen in present-day Brazil in contrast to the knowledge reported in 1648 by Marcgraf and Piso.
This diachronic analysis will allow us to understand which plants were considered important for European scholars in the seventeenth century as well as raise awareness to the non-European contributors to the Historia Naturalis Brasiliae. Finally, this project will shed light on the transmission of knowledge that has been preserved over time.
Researcher Dr Felipe Vander Velden
This subproject focuses on the zoological knowledge contained in the HNB and associated materials, and interrogates indigenous perceptions of human-animal interaction from an anthropological-historical perspective. It investigates the trajectory of introduced animals in Lowland South America, with special attention to the ways in which indigenous peoples in Northeastern Brazil have come to know and eventually incorporate these beings into their worldviews and practices. This scenario illuminates yet another unexplored facet of the colonial Atlantic world: if there was an intense traffic of knowledge and specimens from America to Europe, there was also an opposite flow which brought animals and the "technological packages" from Europe to the New World. This transit of animals had an enormous impact on the history of Brazil, including a significant relevance among native indigenous peoples.
Researcher Dr L.M. Cascon
This research investigates how Brazilian ethnographic artifacts now housed in European museums and collections simultaneously express aspects related to the historical context of Dutch and European colonialism in Brazil as well as regarding indigenous agency. By conducting a study of artifacts produced by indigenous groups of the Tupi linguistic stock (Tronco Tupi) and dialoguing with historical and ethnographical sources, the study seeks to understand how these objects played a part in the transmission, from Colonial Brazil to Europe, of Tupi Indigenous Knowledge regarding plants and animals.
Itineraries of Indigenous Knowledge
Researcher Dr M. De Campos Francozo
This project explores the itineraries of indigenous knowledge in the early modern world by looking at the biography of the HNB and its associated materials. It examines the agents, mechanisms and geographical itineraries through which indigenous knowledge was transmitted and collected as well as the processes of editing, illustrating, printing, distributing, reading, and collecting the book as a material object, taking inspiration from recent works in the field of book history. This subproject further broadens the geographical scope of the project by comparing the results to existing literature on the indigenous presence and role in the making of science and historiography in colonial Latin America.
African knowledge and agency
Researcher Carolina Monteiro
Despite its prevalent description of Brazilian natural history through the lens of indigenous knowledge, the Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (1648) is also filled with valuable information regarding the knowledge introduced by the thousands of people enslaved in different parts of the African continent and deported to Brazil before and during the period of Dutch occupation. In order to shed light on the different modes of African resistance and their fundamental contribution to the social construction of Dutch Brazil, this investigation proposes the study of enslaved Africans (of ample backgrounds and origins) as agents and beholders of knowledge, instead of mere economic contributors to European nations. In an interdisciplinary approach conveying elements from the fields of history, anthropology and art history under the lens of postcolonial theories, the research is based on the analysis of seventeenth-century primary and secondary sources, such as the HNB, as well as the study of correlated objects and artworks.
In the video below, filmed for the American Friends of the Mauritshuis, PhD candidate Carolina Monteiro and curator Lea van der Vinde talk about some of the artworks from the museum’s collection in light of their colonial legacy. Carolina often collaborates with the institution as her research intersects with this colonial legacy of the Mauritshuis and its ties to slavery and Dutch Brazil.
Due to the selected cookie settings, we cannot show this video here.Watch the video on the original website or
- Françozo, M. Final Keynote Lecture at the Congress Werkgroep Zeventiende Eeuw. Postponed due to Covid-19.
- Matthews Cascon, L. “Made in (native) Brazil: understanding museum objects as indigenous knowledge”. Webinar of the Centre for Indigenous America Studies, Leiden, June 2020.
- BRASILIAE Workshop with Mark Harris (St Andrews) and Camila Dias (Unicamp), February 2020.
- Workshop and Expert Meeting Amazonia Collaborative Exhibition-Making, Research Center for Material Culture, Leiden, February 2020.
- Monteiro, C. “Theatro Rerum Naturalium Brasiliae: Visões europeias sobre o escravismo africano na ocupação holandesa do Brasil (1630-1654)”. SEJ - Seminário de Jovens Investigadores em Língua Portuguesa, Iberian and Iberian-American Institute of the University of Warsaw, January 2020.
- Matthews Cascon, L. “Luas decoradas, amarradas e guardadas em caixas: machados semilunares em museus europeus”. 20th Meeting of the Brazilian Archaeological Society, November 2019.
- Françozo, M. Keynote Lecture for Summer School and Seminar Series Naturschönheiten. Verbindungen von Kunst und Natur: “Collecting Dutch Brazil: knowledge-production in an intercultural colonial context”, Gotha, September 2019.
- Vander Velden, F. “Dead dog: rethinking ‘cruelty’ against dogs in Amazonia”. Die Amerikas: Forschungskolloquium zu den Amerikas aus kulturwissenschaftlicher Sicht, Institut für Ethnologie, Ludwig-Maximiliams Universität München, July 2019.
- Françozo, M. and F. Vander Velden. Panel “Native objects, world histories: studies of Brazilian indigenous objects in European Museums” organized at the XII Sesquiannual Conference of the Society for Anthropology of Lowland South America (SALSA) Vienna, June 2019.
- Matthews Cascon, L. and Françozo, M. 2019. “Museum Objects, Native Choices: investigating Tupi ethnographic artifacts as sources of transmission of indigenous knowledge and agency”. XII Conference of the Society for Anthropology of Lowland South America (SALSA) Vienna, June 2019.
- Vander Velden, F. “Exotic materials, native artifacts: exploring objects in the encounter between Amerindian peoples and Old World animals”. XII Conference of the Society for Anthropology of Lowland South America (SALSA), Vienna, June 2019.
- Matthews Cascon, L. “From Montezuma to Tupinambá: on classification and the colonial imagination”. Symposium Revisiting Dutch Brazil: new research into Johan Maurits and the Dutch presence in Brazil. Mauritshuis, Den Haag, June 2019.
- Françozo, M. “Johan Maurits' collection - then and now”. Symposium Revisiting Dutch Brazil: new research into Johan Maurits and the Dutch presence in Brazil. Mauritshuis, Den Haag, June 2019.
- Françozo, M. Art, Material Culture and the Dutch Empire: Dirk Valkenburg and His Worlds. Workshop at the Research Center for Material Culture, June 2019.
- Françozo, M. Participation in the Workshop Digital Repatriation of Biocultural Collections at Kew Gardens, London, UK, June 2019.
- Vander Velden, F. “Notas zoogeoantropológicas sobre um mapa do Brasil holandês”, Programa de Pós-Graduação em Antropologia da Universidade Federal do Paraná (PPGAS/UFPR), May 2019.
- Françozo, M. “Unpacking the book Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (Piso and Marcgraf, 1648): one source, multiple histories”. Seminar at the Lateinamerika-Institut der Freien Universität Berlin, January 2019.
- Françozo, M. “A Comparative Natural History of Brazil: Johannes de Laet as book editor”. Seminar at Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome, December 2018.
- Matthews Cascon, L. and Monteiro, C. “From Sugar Palaces to Colonial Fortresses: discussing the heritage of Dutch Brazil in the contemporaneity”. 40th Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference, Chester, UK, December 2018.
- Françozo, M. Collect and Display. Objects and Subjects of New World Knowledge. LA Global Network. London, November 2018.
- Françozo, M. “A Dutch Natural History of Brazil Gone Global? Exploring Johannes de Laet's and Willem Piso's Editorial Strategies”. Early Modern “Cultural Encyclopaedias”: Defining a Genre and its Agency from a Transcultural Perspective. Center for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Hamburg, October 2018.
- BRASILIAE Workshop with Laura Van Broekhoven (Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford), October 2018.
- Matthews Cascon, L. and Françozo, M. “Of Burnt Houses and Lost Memories: reflections on the fire at Brazil’s National Museum”. The Future of Archaeology: The Legacy of Caspar Reuvens. Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden, October 2018.
- Françozo, M. and Lopez Garces, C. Panel “Conhecimentos Indígenas Tupi Continuidades e Transformações” at the International Conference Ethnobiology Belém +30, August 2018.
- Alcantara Rodriguez, M. “Indigenous Peoples in the Making of Science- Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (1648): What does its plant knowledge reveal about the appropriation and use of indigenous and African medicinal practices and linguistic terminology in a colonial context?” International Conference Ethnobiology Belém +30, August 2018.
- Françozo, M. Panel “New encounters with museum anthropology: objects, history, politics” at IUAES Conference, Florianópolis, July 2018.
- Françozo, M. Presentation “Old Story, New Display” at IUAES Conference, July 2018.
- Françozo, M. Panel “Beyond Feathers: Visualizing Brazil in Early Modern Europe” at LASA Conference, Barcelona, May 2018.
- Françozo, M, “Dutch depictions of Brazilian animals: between narratives of curiosity and descriptions of natural history”, at LASA Conference, May 2018.
- Françozo, M. “Introducing the BRASILIAE Project”. Latin American Studies Research Seminar, Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University, March 2018.
- Françozo, M. “Les Indes occidentales vues des Provinces-Unies”. Seminaire Savoirs et productions du monde au 16e siècle, EHESS, Paris, February 2018.
Françozo M. (2018), "Venenum, un Monde Empoisonné, Musée des Confluences". In: Museum Worlds. Advances in Research 6(1), 2018, pp.158-159. [Exhibition Review].
Vander Velden, F. (2019), "A mulher Tapuya e seu cão – Notas sobre as relações entre indígenas e cachorros no Brasil Holandês", Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos [En ligne], Images, mémoires et sons.
Alcantara-Rodriguez, M., Françozo, M. & van Andel, T. (2019). "Plant Knowledge in the Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (1648): Retentions of Seventeenth-Century Plant Use in Brazil", Economic Botany 73(3).
M. Alcantara-Rodriguez, I.P. Geertsma, M. Françozo, and T. van Andel. (2020). 'Marcgrave and Piso's plants for sale: the presence of plant species and names from the Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (1648) in contemporary Brazilian markets'. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 259.
Françozo, M. and Stek, T. D. (2020) "Mater Amazonia: The Vatican Returns to the Tropics", Material Religion 16(3): 397-399. [Exhibition Review]
Vander Velden, F. (2020). "A Tapuya "Equestrian Nation"? Horses and Native Peoples in the Backlands of Colonial Brazil." In: Bibby, M. A. and Scott, B.G. (eds). The Materiality of the Horse. Budapest: Trivent, pp. 71-106.
Françozo, M. and Berger, M. (2020). "Entrevista com Joe Horse Capture". Espaço Ameríndio 14(1): 29-48. [Interview]
Monteiro, C. and Odegard, E. (2020). “Slavery at the Court of the ‘Humanist Prince’: Reexamining Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen and his role in slavery, slave trade, and slave smuggling in Dutch Brazil”. Journal of Early American History 10 (1): 3-32.
Vander Velden, F. (2020). "O Que Anunciam os Chifres dos Bois? Artefatos multiespecíficos na expansão da pecuária no Brasil." ANTHROPOLÓGICAS Ano 24, 31(1): 67-104.
Françozo, M. and Vander Velden, F. (2020). Special issue of the journal INDIANA, 37 (2).
Françozo, M. and Vander Velden, F. (2020). "Never quite abandoned, never sufficiently studied: Brazilian indigenous objects in European museums". INDIANA 37 (2): 9-24.
Vander Velden, F. (2020). "Exotic materials, native artefacts.Exploring objects in the encounter between Amerindian Peoples and Old World animals." INDIANA 37 (2): 97-120.
Matthews Cascon, L. and Fernandes Caromano, C. (2020). "Swaying on feather roses and Imperial crests: Brazilian feather-decorated hammocks, nation-building, and indigenous agency." INDIANA 37 (2): 71-95.
Geertsma, I.P., Françozo, M., van Andel, T. and Alcantara-Rodriguez, M. (2021) "What’s in a name? Revisiting medicinal and religious plants at an Amazonian market". Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 17, 9.
- Participation in the Mauritshuis Museum exhibition Shifting Images: Johan Maurits, 2019. Label and catalogue texts by M. Françozo, M.Alcantara-Rodriguez, C. Monteiro and F. Vander Velden.
- Leiden Archaeology Blog text by C. Monteiro: “Colonial legacies and art museums: Combining museum research and practice”, 2019.
- ERC/FAPESP dissemination event in São Paulo, Brazil, May 2019.
- Noite dos Pesquisadores in São Paulo, Brazil, May 2019.
- Interview M. Françozo for NRC and National Geographic about the fire at Museu Nacional, 2018
- Interview M. Françozo for EURAXESS, 2018
- Series of BRASILIAE public discussions with students and affiliated researchers, 2018:
- Felipe Vander Velden: “Animais exóticos de origem europeia ou africana entre povos indígenas nas terras baixas da América do Sul”.
- Carolina Monteiro: “Colonial representations of Brazil and their current display in Western museums: the Mauritshuis case and the Dutch gaze”.
- Raphaela Nawa: “Protection of Local Communities’ Traditional Knowledge in Brazil”.
- Isabela Pombo Geertsma: “Medicinal Plants Sold and Used in current Belém (Pará, Brazil) compared to the Historia Naturalis Brasiliae”