Thesis ID: CBB062961078

Science for Colombia : Scientific Nationalism, and the Case of Enrique Pérez Arbeláez, 1929-1957 (2023)


Between the 1930s and the 1950s, Colombia experienced major political changes during the so-called República Liberal and the following military government. Parallel to this social transformation, multiple scientific institutions emerged as part of reforms and as a result of governmental interests. One central figure in these processes of institutionalisation was Enrique Pérez Arbeláez (1886-1972). He worked in various institutions such as the Herbario Nacional, the Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, and the Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi. In this thesis, I explore Arbeláez's work and how an examination of his scientific practice can help us understand better the relationships between the circulation of scientific knowledge and nationalistic narratives, and the role that science played in twentieth century Colombia. First, I investigate how through the collection, representation, and taxonomical classification of botanical specimens in the herbarium, Arbeláez was able to nationalise nature. The international circulation network of botanical specimens was important in this process. Second, I demonstrate how Arbeláez's industrial patents relating to the Pita del Magdalena (Aechmea magdalenae) can help us rethink the relationship between the local, the national, and the global in the history of science. Third, using the photographs taken by Arbeláez, I address the relationship between folklore, anthropology, nationality, and the roles that science played in the construction of a Colombian imagery. Finally, I investigate how Arbeláez, through his connections with the Instituto Geográfico Agustin Codazzi, used aerial photography in order to provide and produce scientific evidence of natural wealth and the uniqueness of Colombia. Thus, I argue that scientific knowledge and institutions played an important role in the configuration of the relationship between state, territory and nation in the consolidation of modern Colombia. Studying the complexity of the interaction between Arbeláez and the locality of knowledge production opens a door for a new understanding of scientific practice during twentieth century Latin America and its place in a global history of science.

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Authors & Contributors
Quintero, Camilo
Wade, Peter
Ernesto Schwartz-Marín
Appelbaum, Nancy P.
Battistini, Andrea
Cheng, Yinghong
Social Studies of Science
Bulletin for the History of Chemistry
Comparative Technology Transfer and Society
Environmental History
Galilæana: Journal of Galilean Studies
Hispanic American Historical Review
Universidad de los Andes
University of Chicago Press
University of Wisconsin at Madison
Science and politics
Science and society
Science and culture
Galilei, Galileo
Ruhemann, Siegfried
Sagredo, Gianfrancesco
Tesla, Nikola
Vargas Paredes, Guillermo
Edison, Thomas Alva
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
20th century, early
20th century, late
18th century
21st century
United States
Bogotá (Colombia)
Cambridge University

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