Introduction of Horses in New Spain

Fray Diego Durán, 1570’s.

Early nineteenth-century facsimile.

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Durán, Diego. “De como el Marquis del Valle Don Hernando Cortes. . . salio a conquistar las demas Provincias . . .” [Cortés and Soldiers Confront the Indians]. In La Historia antigua de la Nueva España. 19th Century. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Facsimile. November 2018. Library of Congress.


Horses have become an iconic characteristic of the Plain Indians of North America. There is an assumption that these people were always mobile through their access to horses. In reality, these long-sedentary societies were disturbed by Spain’s introduction of horses. This mobile beast gives the Plains Indians their iconic tradition of being nomadic. The introduction of horses caused different native nations to come into conflict, not only with each other but with the labor force on Spain’s territories. In reaction to the intersection of various races, the colonial government created a system to label backgrounds. The racial hierarchy that the Spanish developed was an attempt to reassert their dominance after their inability to maintain their monopoly on horses that they initially enjoyed over the Indians.

A painting from Fray Diego’s manuscript depicts the symbolism of the horses that the Spanish brought into colonial territories. This manuscript was made in the 1570’s and was not published until the 19th century. In Fray Diego Duran’s manuscript, he recorded his observations of the Indian’s society. In one of his sections, he includes a colored depiction of the confrontation between the Mexica and the powerful Spanish forces of Hernando Cortés (1485–1547) during his campaign of 1519–1521. Understanding that Fray Diego Duran was a Spanish Dominican priest, it follows that he would depict the Spanish as the superior people in the confrontation. The “history of the Indians” manuscript was likely tailored for the nobles and learned men in Spain who were not able to experience first-hand the New World. The history could also be for the patrons that financially backed the trip. In the piece, horses are leading the Spanish in the fight against the Indians. For the Spanish, this symbolizes that they are justified in invading the Indian’s land. In. Spain, horses were notable elements of heroic traditions. They represented the honor and valor of the rider and thus a sign of nobility. This sign of nobility translated into New Spain, and thus the natives that began riding horses gained status. With the Spanish losing their sign of nobility, they had to turn to a racial hierarchy to reassert their dominance. The introduction of horses was the impetus for the Spanish to create the infamous racial hierarchy. Furthermore through horses we see that once technological advancements are distributed among different people, the divide among them are minimized.




Earle, Rebecca. The Body of the Conquistador. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Mann, Charles. 1493. New York: Vintage Books, 2011.

Fray Diego Durán, La Historia antigua de la Nueva España, 19th Century facsimile, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, November, 2018, Library of Congress.

The Dutch and Their Fishy Business


Johannes Vermeer, Delft, Netherlands, 1660-1661.

Oil on Canvas.

Dutch Royal Cabinet of Paintings at the Mauritshuis.

Vermeer, Johannes. View of Delft. 1660-1661. Oil on Canvas. Mauritshuis, The Hague. In Vermeer’s Hat. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008, Plate 1 Insert.


The Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, was a period where the Dutch were at the forefront of trade, science, military, and art. What was the impetus for this renowned prosperity? The answer can be found in Johannes Vemeer’s View of Delft. This piece was made around the height of the Golden Age, 1660, and simply depicts a view of Delft, Netherlands. In the painting, the herring busses are humbly portrayed as an integral part of this town. As integral as the herring busses are in this piece, so are they in the impetus of the Dutch Golden Age.

Due to a global cooling, the herring industry geographically moved into the control of the Dutch. The Dutch began to exploit this newfound economy through their advancements of the herring busses. In turn, caused the prosperity of the Golden Age. One of the notable features of the Dutch Golden Age, is the VOC. Formed in 1602, the Dutch East Indian Company is herald as the most powerful trading corporation in the seventeenth-century world. As the first modern stock exchange, its influence is present in modern finances. The profitable herring industry provided the financial backing that allowed the Dutch to venture into creating the VOC.

The initiatives to create efficient herring busses compelled the Dutch’s methodical and technological advancements. One of which was to create an onboard curing system on the herring busses allowing them to stay out on the water for longer period of time. In order to compensate for the longer time at sea, a larger boat and crew was necessary. The Dutch shipbuilders had to create larger boats to compensate for necessary space of the curing system and the larger crews needed to maintain this system. The combination of larger boats, larger crews, and technological advancements are the beginning of the military glory of the Dutch Golden Age.

The successful herring industry did not go unnoticed. Envious eyes of the Dutch’s enemies attempted to hamper the Dutch’s profits by attacking the herring busses. In response, Dutch towns agreed to send out convoys to protect their common interest. These convoys had to protect the busses without causing any damage to them. This created a necessity for naval strategies among the convoys. Here, the herring busses are uniting and organizing the Dutch towns in a system to protect itself.  The famous navel strategies of the Dutch Golden Age can find their roots in the navel expedition to protect the herring busses.


Brook, Timothy. 2009. Vermeer’s Hat. New York: Bloomsbury Press.


Inoculation and Marginalization: How Smallpox Was Eradicated in Western Europe

“The cow-pock – or – the wonderful effects of the new inoculation”


London, England

James Gillray (1756-1815)

colored engraving, published by H. Humphrey

Library of Congress Continue reading Inoculation and Marginalization: How Smallpox Was Eradicated in Western Europe

A Bitter-Sweet Cure

[n.d.]. Citron x sour orange, Citrus medica L. x Citrus aurantium L.: whole and half-fruits.
Chalk and Watercolor of a Citrus Fruit

Depicted is a watercolor painting of a citrus fruit, most likely a citron or sour orange, painted in the 17th century by the Italian artist, Cassiano Dal Pozzo. The image itself is nothing special, consisting of watercolors over black chalk and depicting a simple, anatomical diagram of a citrus fruit. Great detail is shown, with seed, pulp texture, coloration pattern, and irregularities all being paid careful attention. What is extraordinary about the drawing is not the image itself, but the socioeconomic and historical importance of its subject.

Citrus fruit was a crucial but often forgotten element of the transatlantic travel which made possible the discovery of the New World and the spread of colonialism. The events which occurred on account of citrus were an enormous step in the direction of modernity, eventually catalyzing major movements for social and political change such as the Enlightenment period and the rise of several great empires. The reason for citrus’ importance in oceanic travel is that it provided the most accessible and, at the time, most medically advanced cure for Scurvy, the disease which ravaged sea-faring crews in the 15th to 18th centuries, accounting for massive percentages of deaths at sea.

Scurvy itself was a disease which arose from a lack of vitamin C in the diet, a discovery which Europeans did not make until much later when the research of James Lind confirmed what was already known: that oranges and lemons prevent and remedy scurvy. Even without the scientific reasoning for the method, the effects of citrus became widely known by the end of the 15th century among European explorers. Records from the voyages of Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama, indicate not only an awareness of the disease, but a chaotic and ongoing struggle to cure it. This consisted of some ridiculous attempts such as the drinking of one’s own urine and bloodletting. Other famous explorers such as Christopher Columbus also directly reference scurvy in their reports, some reporting death rates greater than 80%.

When it was discovered that the cure for such a disparaging illness was so availably at hand, the implementation of citrus in the diets of sailors was immediate. Governments ensured the distribution of rations of oranges and lemons across naval crews in an effort to prevent the tragic and financially catastrophic loss of nearly entire crews. Before the death rate dropped and stabilized, governments of nations involved in the race for transatlantic exploration had become desperate enough to forcibly employ the residents of mental hospitals as naval crews. The discovery of the fruit was a relief to all. It is important, however, to note that citrus fruit back then was not what it is today. Citrons and lemons were the main source of citrus, both of which were bitter and unpleasant to consume. Sweet oranges were not introduced until later when citrus fruits became genetically modified to taste better. Thus the citrus which sailors were made to eat was little better than a spoonful of medicine would be today.


[n.d.]. Citron x sour orange, Citrus medica L. x Citrus aurantium L.: whole and half-fruits.

Mayberry, Jason A. “Scurvy and Vitamin C.” Food and Drug Law, (2004): whole article.

Tiesler, Vera. “Scurvy‐related Morbidity and Death among Christopher Columbus’ Crew at La Isabela, the First     European Town in the New World (1494–1498): An Assessment of the Skeletal and Historical Information.” (2014): whole article.

Earle, Rebecca. The Body of The Conquistador., New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pg 54.

Lind, James. “A Treatise of the Scurvy, in Three Parts.” 1753. Accessed October 8, 2018.

Great Disaster to Great Opportunity


Franc D. Milient, Portugal, 1785
Print, Paper
National Library of Brazil
Millient, Franc D. “General Map of the City of Lisbon.” 1785. World Digital Library. National Library of Brazil.









This map of Lisbon, created thirty years after the massively disastrous earthquake of 1755 by Franc D. Milient, depicts many of the changes made to Lisbon in the wake of the disaster. Very little is known about Franc D. Milient, aside from his status as a cartographer, but his representation of Lisbon after the completed rebuilding of the Baixa is a priceless diagram illustrating the manner in which the Baixa was rebuilt in the Enlightenment spirit.

The most obvious indication of the new spirit in which the Baixa rose is the grid structure which arranges the buildings into recognizable and extremely regular blocks, reminiscent of a city like Chicago or New York City. This plan, proposed by Eugenio dos Santos, a military engineer under Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the Marqes de Pombal and secretary of state, featured a regular grid meant to evoke the Enlightenment values of symmetry and order. The plan also accounted for the need for practical elements such as easy navigation to and from important locations like the Mint or the trading houses and the safety of those who would live and work there in the future.

Carvalho was the consummate Enlightenment leader. He wanted to use the newest discoveries to create the ideal city center where reason could shine over the rest of the city and Portugal, so he not only consulted his military engineers but asked that a survey be spread throughout the survivors inquiring into their particular experiences and the events of the quake. The survey was the first of its kind, and although modifications have been made as seismology advances, the same basic structure and questions are still used in modern seismology. The answers were used to inform the new design of the Baixa with the intent to make safer the elements that were particularly troublesome during the 1755 earthquake. For example, the grid design, while symbolic of more intangible Enlightenment ideas, was also chosen for its considerations towards safety. The easily navigable streets make it easier to find a way around any street blockages, and the wider streets make it harder to block them in the first place while also preventing secondary damage from buildings falling onto each other across the street.

The architecture of individual buildings was also carefully informed by the new, Enlightenment science along with the survey results. While many changes to the architecture were made, the most important new addition was the gaiola pombalina, a wooden framework of beams in a spoke or cross-like arrangement embedded within the masonry walls of each building. These structures were meant to flex with seismic waves in a way that stone alone would not, and according to modern seismologists it does exactly this, redistributing horizontal seismic forces strikingly well.

Invisible Invaders, Invincible Insects

Plate 9 from Historia Insectorum Generalis
Jan Swammerdam, Netherlands, 1669
Print, Book
Biodiversity Heritage Library; Cornell University Library
Swammerdam, Jan. Tertivs Ordo Nympha. 1669. Cornell University Library. In Historia Insectorum Generalis. Apud Jordanum Luchtmans, 1685. Plate 9. Accessed December 4, 2018.

This plate, depicting the life cycle of ants, is the work of scientist and medical doctor Jan Swammerdam. Swammerdam trained as a medical doctor at the University of Leiden in 1661, and most of his published works reference medical science and especially the question of how breathing functions. This plate is from one of his rare forays into naturalist science publication, although it seems to have been his passion. His father pressured him into concentrating on medical science, hoping that Jan would earn a practical living, but his many friends encouraged him to follow his true interests and one of them even published his Biblia naturae after his death in 1680. The only works he published during his lifetime were a single monograph of a mayfly (which he proceeded to write a hymn to God about) and this text, the Historia Insectorum Generalis.

Swammerdam’s interest in ants was atypical of the era, and for the most part they went unnoticed. While Swammerdam was stationed in the Netherlands, his illustration of the ant life cycle illuminates the reason these tiny, easily-killed individual organisms can and have become massive problems throughout history and in the contemporary world. Ants, typically,  have a reproductive cycle in which there are one or more “queens” who hold the sole ability to lay eggs. These eggs are all fertilized during a single mating flight during a specific mating period usually indicated by environmental conditions such as humidity, food availability, and—in some areas—whether the nest has been flooded recently. Ant-keepers often encourage increases in their colony size by introducing more food, which stimulates colony growth along with possible mating nymph production. After this mating flight, the queen lands, finds a suitable area to form a nest, and loses her wings. From this single queen, every ant in the colony will be laid and hatched.

This ability to essentially create a colony of several thousand (or more) ants is what makes ants such a potent environmental agent, especially during a time such as the age of the Columbian Exchange when new stimuli were introduced to new countries. While people like Swammerdam showed rare interest in insects and ants in particular, most individuals during the early modern period failed to notice insects at all. One particularly stunning example of ants going unnoticed, despite massive indications of their role in a disaster, took place in Hispaniola in 1518. The Spanish colonists in Hispaniola brought plantain trees from Africa to populate the plantations on the island and probably to help diversify the crops they could sell aside from sugar. Hiding away on these trees, however, was a plague that only became dangerous when introduced to the ecological system of Hispaniola: mealybugs.

When these mealybugs were introduced to Hispaniola, they were also introduced to an army of new friends: fire ants, or Solenopsis geminata. S. geminata is well-known to “herd” or “farm” mealybugs, even “milking” them for the sweet, calorie-rich waste product they excrete called “honeydew”. This new, massive availability of food led to an explosion of ant population, so much so that colonists had to put the legs of their beds in bowls of water to prevent ants stinging them in their sleep as their floors were carpeted with thousands of ants. The plantations withered, but the colonists did not attribute this to the proper invaders; rather, they blamed the ants. The colonists had no care for the mechanisms of ants or how they really functioned. That was unique to people like Jan Swammerdam, with passions that led us to our current understanding of science and specifically modern entomology.


The Telescope and Tradition

Galileo Galilei, Florence, Italy, 1609
Convex objective lens and concave lens in a long tube
Museum of the History of the Science, Florence.
Galilei, Galileo. Galileo’s 20x Telescope. 1610. Convex objective lens and eyepiece in a long tube. Museum of the History of the Science, Florence. 3 December, 2018.

Provenance: Copy of telescope held by the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienzia, Florence One of a pair – see Inv 11094

The telescope was initially designed by the Dutch spectacles maker Hans Lippershey in 1608; he claimed to create a tool that magnified distant objects three times using a concave and convex lens. Its body was no more than two silver tubes fitted together, about seven inches long. The telescope obviously went on to be further developed into the monumentally valuable instrument we know today. The one pictured above, a model of Galileo’s 20X telescope, was created a year later in Florence, Italy. It used both a concave lens, serving as the eyepiece and one convex objective lens serving as the objective. These are on either end of a long tube, positioned so that they have the same focal points. It had a relatively small field of view compared to what we are used to in the modern telescope.

Because the telescope was created by a spectacles-maker, the original purpose was to magnify objects on Earth, not those in the sky. It was originally used for commercial purpose as a sort of amusing toy or tool for Enlightenment Europe to see what was originally far more difficult to perceive. Initially, it wasn’t even perceived as a potential tool for the military; clearly its untapped potential was exponential. Therefore, when Galileo pointed this new instrument towards the heavens, the effects and implications were monumental.

The telescope was one of the most important technological advancements of the European Enlightenment. Prior to its advent, scientists used tools such solar quadrants, armillary astrolabes, and parallactic instruments, all of which were considerably precise in measurements considering their context but did not provide nearly as much detail or information as the telescope. However, they were enough to provide solid theories off of which the astronomers with access to telescopes based much of their own ideas. The physical observations this tool provided held the potential to challenge the groundwork of all that society had known up until this point; never before had people been given the opportunity to see the world from a non-human centered point of view.

It was with this pre-telescopic equipment that Ptolemy and Copernicus developed their respective geocentric and heliocentric models of the universe. Following them was Tycho Brahe, a well-respected Danish nobleman, who also did not have access to the telescope and developed a model somewhere between Ptolemy and Copernicus’: one with an immobile Earth surrounded by a rotating moon and stars while the rest of the planets circled the sun. His student, Johannes Kepler, set about proving his instructor wrong by returning to Copernicus’ heliocentric model with the use of a telescope. Galileo additionally advanced and employed the telescope to support the heliocentric model, inciting his famous controversy with the Catholic Church.


Graney, Christopher M. “Francesco Ingoli’s Essay To Galileo: Tycho Brahe and Science in the Inquisition’s Condemnation of the Copernican Theory” History and Philosophy of Physics, Cornell University Library (18 Nov 2012): 1-60.

Graney, Christopher M. “Of Mites and Men: Johannes Kepler on Stars and Size”. History and Philosophy of Physics, Cornell University Library (9 Feb 2018): 1-19.

Hollricher, Olaf and Wolfram Ibach. “High Resolution Optical and Confocal Microscopy.” Confocal Raman Microscopy Springer Series in Optical Sciences, August 31, 2010, 1-20.

Peterson, Mark A. Galileo’s Muse. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, Oct 17, 2011.

Khipu in New Spain

Unknown maker (Inka),
c. 1400-1532.
Cotton or wool cords, knotted, twisted and dyed. 85 x 108 cm.
Cleveland Museum of Art

While very few remain in the present, Khipu were very important and widespread bureaucratic tools of the Inka Empire (c. 1418-1572). Made of cotton or wool cords, khipu were organized along a primary cord that housed a series of pendant cords, which could in turn host up to 10-12 layers of subsidiary cords. Khipu communicated numerical data from the provinces of the empire by delineating particular values on the basis of cord color, knot type, and placement.

Citizens of the empire were organized into units of 10, 50, 100, and furthermore up to the total population of each of the 80 provinces. Each of these units had an appointed leader. The organization of khipu follows this model, with the smallest subsidiary cords representing the smallest data set and the primary cord the conglomerate of data.

Only specialized scribes – selected by officials for their integrity and talent – were allowed be khipumayaq, or khipu makers. Furthermore, the ability to read and interpret khipu was a specialized skill. These khipumayaq worked in specific teams to ensure that all data sets were counted by multiple officials. Each khipumayaq team was only responsible for and able to read and create a section of the total khipu, in order to maintain checks and balances. Additionally, each team inspected the work of the team before them. For these reasons, the Spanish census makers who observed khipu being used in the sixteenth-century emphasized its reliability and accuracy.

Khipu were transported back to Cusco along the Inka Empire’s sophisticated system of roads and runners. These runners transported the khipu and were able to communicate numerical data to different provinces and officials.

Because khipu is an unconventional system of accounting, it was considered sufficient evidence by the Spanish of the lack of civilization in the Andean region to justify the subjugation of the Inkan people into the encomienda system. Due to the specialized nature of its construction and limited legibility, Spanish surveyors regularly classified khipu as less than a writing system. Because it needed to be recited by khipumayaq, khipu was also closely associated with the oral tradition, which was considered an unreliable source of information by western audiences. Spanish writers also compared the khipu to women’s prayer beads.

While the Third Lima Council’s order to destroy “idolatrous” khipu in 1583 may have played a role in their scarcity today, recent scholarship suggests a civil war immediately before the Spanish conquest is probably a more substantial reason for their absence. Their early disappearance would also explain why the Spanish failed to recognize khipu’s significance.



Brokaw, Galen. A History of the Khipu. Cambridge Latin American Studies, 2010.

Cobo, Bernabé. History of the Inca Empire: An Account of the Indians’ Customs and Their Origin, Together with a Treatise on Inca Legends, History, and Social Institutions. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.

de la Vega, Garcilaso. Royal Commentaries of the Yncas. Translated by Clements Markham. England: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2010.

Harvard University. “What is a Khipu?” Khipu Database Project. Last modified September 2018.

Image from: Artstor. “Inka Khipu (Fiber Recording Device).” Artstor Digital Library. Accessed Dec. 6th, 2018.;prevRouteTS=1544122826172