Mercurio Volante

Date: 1772
Owner: Wellcome Library, London
Source Type: Images

Mercurio Volante (Flying Mercury) was the first medical journal produced in the Americas and only the second journal on the sciences published in Mexico. The Mexican mathematician and physician Jose Ignacio Bartolache (1739-1790) initiated this journal to promulgate the useful art of medicine as well as create a forum where scientific Mexicans could publish articles and criticisms on many aspects of Enlightenment science. Topics discussed during this journal's short run (17 October 1772 until 10 February 1773) include the necessity of accurate instruments, Newtonian physics, the usefulness of medical anatomy, the chemistry of indigenous alcoholic drinks, and psychological hysteria.

Despite this journal's brief lifespan, it is representative of a larger and very important trend in Latin America during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The first scientific journal in Latin America, Jose Antonio Alzate's Diario Literaria (1772-1773), began a trend that spread throughout the Spanish speaking Americas. Over the next thirty years, journals like La Gaceta de Guatemala, Mercurio Peruano, and Francisco Jose de Caldas' Seminario del Nuevo Reino de Granada acted as media through which creole intellectuals could debate modern science and suggest ways that it could be employed to benefit local society. For example, Mercurio Peruano published articles on public health, an Argentine journal proposed new uses of chemistry in agriculture, and Alzate suggested new mining techniques. The consistent trend is that these journals made Enlightenment science pragmatic and useful to local society. The fact that Mercurio Volante and all other Spanish American scientific journals were written in Spanish (as opposed to Latin, the traditional language of science) reflects that they were meant to be read by the entire educated public.

Many of their pragmatic reforms, however, went against contemporary Spanish policies, thus aggravating the escalating tensions between creole intellectuals and the Spanish empire. These journals helped to create a type of scientific nationalism which, combined with the growing sense of the cultural uniqueness of New World societies, contributed to the precipitation of political independence.

Reference: Saldana, Juan Jose. "Science and Public Happiness during the Latin American Enlightenment." In Science in Latin America: A History. Edited by Juan Jose Saldana. Trans. Bernabe Madrigal. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

CITATION: Front page of 1st edition of Mercurio Volante, being the first medical newspaper in the New World. From Mercurio Volante. 17 October 1772. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. L0002686.