Alejandro Malaspina

Date: 1789
Owner: Fortenat Press, Madrid
Source Type: Images


Alejandro Malaspina, an Italian-born Spanish naval officer, led a scientific expedition to the Americas and beyond from 1789-1794. The exact goals of the expedition were only loosely defined; the scientists on the team were all naturalists with a broad range of interests and the expectation was that they would study, collect, and catalogue whatever captured their curiosity or promised to provide knowledge beneficial to Spain. Thus plants, animals, and minerals were illustrated and collected and they made hydrographic charts of the many coasts they explored. Their journey, in two specially equipped corvettes, took them from Patagonia to Mexico, through the Andes, from California to Alaska (in search of the ever-elusive Northwest Passage), and to Australia and the Philippines.

Although curiosity, the search for new source of wealth, and the creation of new terrestrial and oceanic charts had been the conventional goals of scientific expedition since the sixteenth century, Malaspina and his naturalists brought a self-consciously enlightened approach to their work. Furthermore, they were encouraged to study the political attitudes of their American colonists, many of whom had embraced the tenets of the Enlightenment and been inspired to ideas of independence by the recent revolution in British North America. Although- like many other expeditions- Malaspina's did ethnographic studies of indigenous peoples, the fact that they also studied Creoles hints at how Spain and her colonists had begun to drift apart culturally. It is interesting that the Enlightenment could simultaneously inspire political dissent as well as the urge to study that dissent objectively. Upon returning to Spain and perhaps as a result of his interaction with Creole intellectuals, Malaspina himself was arrested on suspicion of political intrigue and imprisoned for life without trial.

CITATION: In Novo y Colson, Pedro de. Viaje politico-cientifico alrededor del mundo por las corbetas Descubierta y Atrevida al mando de los Capitanes de Navio D. Alejandro Malaspina y D. Jose de Bustamante y Guerra, desde 1789 a 1794. Madrid: Imprenta de Fortenat, 1885.