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Natalia Andrea Ramírez León
Félix de Azara y Alexander von Humboldt ¿dos "Proto-Etólogos" en Suramérica?
Supervisor/s: Oliver Hochadel
Date of defense: 05-09-2012

When dealing with the “scientific” voyages to the South American territories in the late eighteenth century, historians studied predominantly the relations between botany, the medicinal use of plants and the European powers that promoted these explorations. This focus has largely ignored the descriptions that the very same traveling naturalists made of the new world’s wildlife. This paper aims to reconstruct a part of that history taking as a source the travel diaries and specialized compendia written by Félix de Azara and Alexander von Humboldt. Their behavioral and anatomical observations of South American fauna will be analyzed in the broader context of the debates that marked natural history at the time, such as the question of the “correct” classification of animals, the validity of indigenous knowledge and the discussion on how best to study animals alive or stuffed, in captivity or in the wild. Specific attention will be given to how the “working conditions” in the field shaped the practices of the naturalists. The contributions of Azara and Humboldt will not be interpreted “teleologically”, that is to say as the beginning of a long line of scientists dedicated to the systematic study of animal behavior that culminated in the foundation of a new discipline in the first part of the twentieth century: ethology. Rather, they will be understood as a result of the specific concerns and interests of two European men travelling in unknown territories.

 

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