Map of Venezuela

Date: 1920
Owner: Liografia del Comercio, Caracas
Source Type: Images

The Commercial and Industrial Museum, which was located in Caracas' Plaza Bolivar, was a Venezuelan institution meant to promote national economic growth through scientific study of natural resources found within the country's borders. This museum focused almost exclusively on collection, research, and publication, leaving the duty of public education and display to the Museo Nacional, built in 1875. As part of a regional trend of inviting foreign specialists to bolster national scientific institutions, the government hired Henri Pittier, the Swiss naturalist and former director of Costa Rica's Instituto Fisico-Geografico, as the museum's director.

Venezuelan scientific institutions faced several financial and political challenges, and Pittier knew that--like the Instituto Fisico-Geografico--the Museum was in constant danger of loosing funding or government patronage. Yet Pittier also knew the potential wealth (both scientific and economic) in Venezuela and thus strove to repair what he considered the deplorable state of national science. Organization and classification were key to this effort and Pittier led a campaign to reorganize national museums, find and study natural resources, and publish the findings in academic journals.

The museum published the Commercial and Industrial Bulletin, but despite Pittier's arguments that such journals were necessary for building national science, the government terminated the publication after only one issue. While working for the museum, Pittier also made this Mapa Ecologico de Venezuela, a clear representation of just how many potential sources of wealth existed within the nation's boundaries. Plants, Pittier's special interest, dominate this economic and ecological landscape, and he collected several new specimens that he later sent to experts in Germany and the U.S. for classification.

Despite the obvious benefit that such publications would have for the nation, the government was often at odds with Pittier and fired him as the museum's director in 1933. The dictator Juan Vincente Gomez and his ministers were upset with how Pittier criticized their lack of attention to natural conservation and modernizing agriculture because they refused to tolerate any negative portrayal of government policies. Furthermore, the state was growing more interested in exporting petroleum and saw less and less need for the museum's plant collections, a clear example of how science often depends on the whims of political and economic circumstances. Pittier remained in Venezuela where he continued to do botanical work until his death in 1950.

Reference: McCook, Stuart. States of Nature: Science, Agriculture, and Environment in the Spanish Caribbean, 1760-1940. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

CITATION: Pittier, Henri. Mapa Ecologico de Venezuela que demuestra las zonas naturales, los cultivosm las vias de communicacion y los principales centros mineros, etc.. Caracas: Liografia del Comercio, 1920.