In the search of lost knowledge

Research recovers the evolution of the scientific ideas of Portugal and of Brazil

What scientific and technical thinking of the Portuguese and the Brazilians like in the Renaissance? In 1989, having come up with difficulty in finding references for research in the period, professor Roberto de Andrade Martins, of the Group of History and Theory of Science, of the State University of Campinas (in the State of São Paulo) (Unicamp), decided to carry out a survey on the question. Curiously enough, he ran into an abundance of material, and in 1991 he started to develop a computerized data base. It is the Lusodat, a huge project that has the financial support of the Research Support Foundation of the State of São Paulo (FAPESP), of the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) of Brazil and as well of the Commission on Bibliography and Documentation of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science.

“The project was kicked off very modestly.”, admits the researcher. “At first I thought that there would be less than one thousand scientific books published in Portugal and in Brazil before 1822 and the project, in the first instant, was only going to go up to the Independence of Brazil.”, he explains. “From that period there are, actually, 7,000 books.”, he reveals. To his surprise, up to this moment the researcher and his team of six people have already registered more than 80,000 items, during a period of research that was enlarged from the Renaissance up until 1900. The work is not yet concluded, and according to the calculations of professor Martins, could be end up cataloguing more than 100,000 publications that, afterwards, will be placed on and available through the Internet.

“The basic motive of the research was to study the scientific and technical roots of the country.”, reports professor Martins. “Obviously, we need to include the scientific and technical history of Portugal.” The researcher observes that, contrary to the more developed countries, in Brazil and in Portugal there is a blank when one tries to know what type of scientific information went around in that rich historical period. “It is very easy to discover what was published in magazines of the more developed countries during the 19th century about any theme of physics for example, using the bibliographical elements in existence.”, he observed. “But, expect for a few exceptions, the Portuguese or Brazilian publications are not present.”, he completes.

Ample research
The survey carried out by the team from Unicamp is broad. There are primary and secondary documents about all of the scientific questions – medicine, chemistry, and pharmaceutical zoology, veterinary, anthropology, astronomy, navigation and military arts, just to name a few. They only looked for the works of Portuguese and Brazilian authors, unpublished or published in another country or in another language.

The works of foreigners about Portugal and Brazil were kept out and as well as references about fiction literature, judicial, religious and speeches. However, there is an exception among the religious texts. It is the translation of the Gospel carried out by the Portuguese for the Chinese and the Japanese in the 16th century. “It determines the linguistic domination of the Portuguese at that time and enters into the genre of philology.”, explains professor Roberto de Andrade Martins.

If initially the research included only books printed up until 1822, from 1993 on the area to be covered was extended to include secondary bibliographies, manuscripts of the period, maps, pamphlets and thesis, articles from magazines and biographical data about the authors of works were included in the data bank. From 1994, the research was enlarged even more, and started to contain historical information and a chronogram about the period. “This way, one is able to accompany the historical process of the two countries.”, observes the researcher. “It also allows the understanding of the economic, social and political factors that influenced the scientific and technological developments.”, he explains.

It was then the period of the survey was extended until 1900. When you add to the 7,000 books published from the 15th century until 1822, maps, manuscripts and articles from magazines and the references about that period the number goes up to 20,000 items. “From 1823 until 1900 there must be some 70,000 items and plus 10,000 with biographical information, secondary literature, historical data, among others.”, calculates the researcher. This explains why they did not proceed with the research into the 20th century. “From that point onwards the number of publications explodes and it would be an insane piece of work.”, he laments.

“We found interesting phases of scientific production that determined the degree of publications related with the historical period of the time.”, says the researcher. “For example, around 1760, with the reform of Marquis of Pombo and the expulsion of the Jesuits in Portugal, the educational system was changed.”, he tells “Shortly afterwards, the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon was created and the scientific production grew like never before.”, he concluded. “At that time in Brazil, if we observe the period of the proclamation of the Republic, we can verify clearly a decline of 30% in the production, that we still cannot explain.”, compares professor Martins.

A lack of global studies
This work is unprecedented and will certainly facilitate the life of researchers on any of the genres catalogued. In Brazil, up until now, there are few studies and normally they are about specific questions. For example, there are the old global studies edited by Fernando de Azevedo and by Mário Guimarães Ferri and Shozo Motoyama. More recently, the history groups of the University of São Paulo (USP) and of Geosciences of Unicamp carried out studies about the development of some important institutions in the 19th century.

There are also studies about chemistry in the 18th and 19th centuries and about the history of mathematics. The Oswaldo Cruz Hospital has carried out a piece of research into sources of medicines. The Museum of Astronomy and Related Sciences took a survey of the archives in Rio de Janeiro. “However, each one tried to collect information for their specific study without carrying out a systematic survey of the sources of research available.”, observes professor Martins. “Up until now therewas no planning in Brazil of a project that covers as much as this project.”, sums up the professor.

The researcher informs that in Portugal the situation is not much different, though there is a longer tradition of studies about the history of science and of technical developments. “In spite of good studies about specific themes or better known personalities, it was never possible to have a global vision of the production of the genre in that country.” he completes. It is not an easy task to research, to gather together and to organize these thousands of bibliographical references. The work of the team from Unicamp consists in searching for information both in printed reference works (such as bibliographies, catalogues, historic studies) and in direct consultation to libraries and archives.

Firstly, they use works found through bibliographies and consulting the card indexes of the libraries or in citations found in other works. Afterwards, they look for each one of the items selected in the data bank to check if it was not already registered. “If it already exists, we add the new information.”, he said. If it is not, a new registry is created and the information is fed in.

Precarious material
Meantime, the greatest difficulty is to handle all of this material, given the precarious state in which the libraries of the country are. Professor Andrade Martins recalls, for example, that the National Library of Rio de Janeiro guards a truly historical treasure. “The institution received all material that belonged to Portuguese Royal Family.”, observes the researcher. “However, a lot of the material has deteriorated, attacked by insects and termites.”, advised the professor.

The researchers of Unicamp don’t have to move to Portugal to consult their archives, the work is done by way of the analysis of the catalogues of the institution. However, professor Martins says that at the end of the 19th century, an inventory in the National Library of Lisbon was carried out on all of the material. “We plan to make a copy of this material, as it is still the best source of information about the old material of the National Library of Lisbon.”, he says. “The libraries of Portugal, including the National, are computerizing everything, but they are beginning to do it the works that are being purchased.”, states the professor.

Even so, professor Martins found some precious items in the National Library of Rio de Janeiro that apparently do not exist in Portugal. One of those pointed out by the researcher is Paradox or Philosophical Sentence Against the Opinion of Vulgar: That Nature Does Not Make the Man But Industry by João Cointha, which was printed in Lisbon in 1566. “It is the philosophical work of the French author (Jean Cointhe), but translated into Portuguese and published in Portugal, for this reason it was included in our project.”, clarifies professor Martins. The Library of Rio possesses three examples of this work, one of them from the Royal Library which was brought to Brazil when the Portuguese Royal Family fled to the country in 1808. As well as these examples, according to the researcher, it is known that there is another at Harvard University.

Another work from that library that merits citing, according to professor Martins, is De Regimine Cibi At que Potus, et de Caeterarum Rerum Non Naturalium Usu Nova Enarratio (New Narrative About the Diet of Food and Drink, and of the Use of Other Non Natural Things), by Henrique Jorge Henriques, printed in Salamanca (Spain) in1594 – it is worth observing that, at that time, Portugal still found itself under the domination of the Spanish crown.

“This is an excellent medical work (444 pages) by a Portuguese author, very rare.”, he observes. Other examples cited by the researcher are among the most important works found in the research of the 16th century. “But we could have cited more examples, such as the philosophical theses of the 18th century, collected by Diogo Barbosa-Machado, many of which only exist in Rio.” He emphasizes. He figures, with the inclusion of all of the research material on the Internet, the project will only be completed in 2005. Information about the Lusodat project:

The project
Project Lusodat (nº 05/01615-2); Modality Aid to research project; Coordinator Professor Roberto de Andrade Martins – Group of History and Theory of science, of Unicamp; Investment R$ 19,665.00