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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Spaniards were prominent in cartography


in books of travel. To enumerate

the contributors to geographical knowledge it would be necessary to name the hundreds of Spanish voyages and explorations in the new world of which accounts were written by their leaders or by friars accompanying the expeditions. A noteworthy compendium of these reports has recently been published, although it was compiled in the sixteenth century, the _Geograf?a y descripci?n universal de las Indias_ (Geography and general description of the Indies) for the years 1571 to 1574 by Juan L?pez de Velasco. Something of a like nature was achieved for the peninsula itself in the reign of Philip II. As was inevitable, Spaniards were prominent in cartography. Aside from the men who accompanied the expeditions in the new world, the most famous cartographers of the time were those of the _Casa de Contrataci?n_, many of whom made contributions to cartographical science, as well as additions to the mapping of the world. One interesting instance was the use of maps with equi-distant polar projections years before Mercator in 1569 first employed this method, which was henceforth to bear his name. Spanish innovators have not received the credit they deserve, principally because their results were in many cases deliberately kept secret by the Spanish government, which wished to retain a monopoly of the information, as well as of the trade, of the new world. Spanish achievements, it will be observed, were designed to meet practical ends, rather than to promote universal knowledge,--unfortunately
for the fame of the individuals engaged in scientific production.

[Sidenote: Similarly, Spanish achievements in the mathematical and physical sciences.]

Naturally, these accomplishments in geography and cartography necessitated a solid foundation in the mathematical and physical sciences, and such a basis in fact existed. The leading scholars, especially those of the _Casa_, who always stood out from the rest, displayed a remarkable conjunction of theory and practice. At the same time that they were writing doctrinal treatises about cosmography, astronomy, and mathematics, they were able to make maps and nautical instruments with their own hands, and not infrequently to invent useful appliances. Problems in connection with the variations of the magnetic needle, the exact calculation of longitude, the observation of eclipses, and the perfection of the astrolabe were among those which preoccupied students of that day. The advancement of Spaniards is evidenced by the facility with which the theory of Copernicus (that the sun, and not the earth, is the centre of the solar system) was accepted in Spain, when it was rejected elsewhere. It is noteworthy, too, that when Pope Gregory XIII proposed to correct the calendar, he sought information of Spanish scholars, whose suggestions were followed. In the same year (1582) that the Gregorian calendar went into effect in Rome, it was adopted also in Spain. In nautical science, as might have been expected from the practical character of Spanish studies, Spaniards were pre?minent. Among the more important names was that of Alarc?n, better known for his voyage of 1540 in the Gulf of California and along the western coast of the California peninsula. Advance in naval construction accompanied that of navigation proper. The new world provided Spaniards with an opportunity, of which they did not fail to avail themselves, for progress in the sciences of physics and chemistry, always with practical ideals in mind. Theories were set forth as to such matters as cyclones, terrestrial magnetism, atmospheric pressure, and even telegraphy, while mechanical inventions were made, because these things were related to specific problems. The most remarkable example of the heights to which Spaniards attained in physics and chemistry was in the application of these sciences to metallurgy. When the mines of the Americas were first exploited, it was necessary to resort to German methods, but it was not long before Spaniards easily took first rank in the world. A work by Alonso Barba, for example, published in 1640, was translated into all of the leading European languages, and served as the principal guide of metallurgists for more than a century. As engineers Spaniards lagged behind other European peoples; engineering works were not greatly involved in the colonization of the Americas. It is interesting, however, to note the numerous studies of projects by Spaniards of the sixteenth century,--among them, Cort?s, Saavedra, Galv?n, L?pez de G?mara, Gil Gonz?lez D?vila, Salcedo, Esquivel, and Mercado,--with a view to the construction of a canal at the Isthmus of Panam? to facilitate communication with the Pacific.


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