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Nobel Prize Winners (1947-1995)

Whether in literature, economics, humanitarianism, or the sciences, the Nobel Prize is an international hallmark of excellence. Although both the Peace and Literature Prizes have been earned by many individuals throughout the developing world, the award in the sciences (physics, chemistry, and medicine) have remained largely the domain of scientists from Western Europe and the United States. This may seem understandable for several reasons, including the cutting-edge technology, abundant funding, and established scientific institutions in these regions.

Since the introduction...

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Observatories, Astronomy, & Cosmology (500+)

In the dry mountains of Chile, state-of-the-art optical telescopes with 8-meter lenses are probing the distant reaches of space and capturing fantastic images of stars and galaxies that are changing how scientists think about our universe. 3,494 miles away, in a volcanic crater in Puerto Rico, an 18.5 acre radar dish is sending and receiving waves that U.S. astronomers read to learn about small particles in our solar system. 2,346 miles south of this huge dish, Bororo Indians in Matto Grosso, western Brazil, lie observing the ordered progress of cosmic movements and use this empirically...

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Paleontology (1800+)

Specific local circumstances often have a decisive role in shaping a nation's scientific specializations. To list just a few examples: Brazilian public health officials in the early twentieth century were expert in fighting tropical diseases, sixteenth century Mexicans were at the forefront of new mining techniques, twentieth century Peruvian physicians studied the effects of high altitude on human health, and Caribbean agriculturalists perfected how sugar was grown and refined. All of these reflect the Latin American preference for the useful arts, applied sciences (medicine,...

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Pan American Health Science (1902+)

Around the turn of the last century, the threat of epidemic diseases was all too real throughout the Americas. American nations were drawn closer together than ever before by international commerce and the many U.S. interests in Central and South America. The age-old tropical killers, especially yellow fever, as well as diseases like cholera, typhoid fever, and even the bubonic plague (brought from Asia) were a threat to the developing inter-American community. To ensure the unimpeded flow of commerce (and thus U.S. economic and political dominance), public health officials began an...

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Panama Canal (1880+)

In the summer of 1914, the first ship steamed between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans over a fifty mile stretch that had been terra firma a mere ten years earlier. The Panama Canal was a marvel of modern engineering that fulfilled a dream as old as the Age of Discovery, a convenient inter-oceanic waterway that avoided the dangerous and lengthy passage around Cape Horn. After years of futile voyages in search of the Northwest Passage, capitalists, engineers, and politicians from Europe and the United States, inspired by ideals of progress and modernity, decided to carve a marine path...

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Rockefeller Foundation (1913+)

Although scientific laws may be universal, scientific practices are not. When a dominant group attempts to "improve" how science is done in another locale, the recipients have the options of accepting, rejecting, or modifying the practices in order to fit local circumstances or preferences. This was the case in Latin America when the Spanish empire tried to impose its scientific styles upon its colonies, and the same process occurred again in the twentieth century when philanthropic organizations in the United States worked to modernize healthcare and agriculture in Latin America....

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Scientific Institutions and Education (1750+)

Why is the list of countries renowned for their scientific advancements and achievements so short? Despite the racist theories of Social Darwinists and others, Western Europe, the United States, and Japan do not have a disproportionate number of natural-born geniuses compared to the rest of the world. They do, however, have very well developed infrastructures for the production and promulgation of scientific knowledge, systems that have proven decisive in their ability to dominate--politically, economically, and culturally--other nations. The conquests facilitated by these...

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Slavery and Science (1500-1888)

In the eyes of the European conquerors and settlers of the sixteenth century, potential wealth seemed to be everywhere in colonial Latin America. Vast deposits of gold and silver, New World biota, and a climate and soil well suited for growing cash-crops all promised to make a fortune overnight for Iberian settlers. Yet who would mine the ore and harvest the sugar? There were not enough European laborers to extract the latent riches of the Americas (and many of them were unwilling to do manual labor), so slaves, both African and Native American, were pressed to toil for wealth that they...

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Social Sciences (1850+)

Since the mid nineteenth century, social scientists have attempted to use scientific methodology to discover empirically-derived truths about the human world. Demography, economics, geography, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, and psychology are just some of the disciplines that seek to elucidate various aspects of the human world. There is no way that the history of each of these fields in Latin America can be explored in depth in this topic, but touching on case studies within each of these fields will help to draw out some of the most important themes in the Latin American social...

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The Colonial Enlightenment (1750-1820)

Most discussions of the scientific aspects of the Enlightenment (the eighteenth century movement emphasizing reason) are dominated by figures like Newton, Lavoisier, and Linnaeus, world-changing scientists who worked from centers like London, Paris, and Stockholm. Less often heard, though, are names like Caldas, Alzate, and Camara, men who actualized the experimental and philosophical aspects of the Enlightenment throughout the Iberian Atlantic. Although these men and others made impressive advancements in natural history, it cannot be said that they had a comparable impact on world...

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The Spanish American Enlightenment and Scientific Expeditions (1520-1950)

Most discussions of the scientific aspects of the Enlightenment (the eighteenth century movement emphasizing reason) are dominated by figures like Newton, Lavoisier, and Linnaeus, world-changing scientists who worked from centers like London, Paris, and Stockholm. Less often heard, though, are names like Caldas, Alzate, and Camara, men who actualized the experimental and philosophical aspects of the Enlightenment throughout the Iberian Atlantic. Although these men and others made impressive advancements in natural history, it cannot be said that they...

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Tropical Medicine (1860-1940)

The year is 1860. A Brazilian woman, a slave on a sugar plantation, begins to sicken with what we now call Chagas's disease. Despite being given whatever succor was available for one of her status, she weakens, looses her mental acuity, and is eventually deformed to a point of paralysis. Her demise is attributed to tropical degeneration, the generic explanation for various severe illnesses that seem to strike only those who visit or live in the tropics. Leading European scientists considered cases such as this (which were also common in their imperial holdings in South Asia and Africa)...

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Urban Science (1300+)

Latin America is one of the most urbanized regions in the world. By 1990, over one-third of the area's population lived in forty-one cities of one million or more people each and, on average, the metropolises in Latin America are the largest on earth. Whereas the mean population for large cities in the U.S. and Canada is about 2.7 million, Latin American urban centers average about 3.6 million. Four of the world's fifteen largest cities are in Latin America, including two--Mexico City and Sao Paulo--that are among the world's five most populous urban centers. Despite U.S. stereotypes...

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Voyages of Discovery & Encounters (1400-1700)

The traditional narratives of the great explorers--Columbus, Vespucci, Cabral--are well known. With a combination of advanced technology, pluck, and luck, these legendary men sailed fearlessly towards the horizon, risking (and sometimes losing) their lives in the pursuit of riches, knowledge, and glory. They "discovered" a New World, one which would encourage Europeans to improve their technology, rethink their scientific methods, and reconsider their very place in the universe. Before long, Europeans were using the oceans to consolidate vast overseas empires, spreading their people and...

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Women Scientists (1500+)

Latin America, like most of the world outside of Europe and the U.S., has traditionally been on the periphery of science. Colonialism and neo-colonialism, lack of funding and infrastructure, and the unwillingness of the international scientific community to pay attention to the science produced in the South have all relegated Latin America and the Caribbean to a secondary role. But what of those scientists within this region who were themselves made peripheral, not only to scientific centers but within their own societies? Female scientists in Latin America and the Caribbean have...

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