Header Erc Brasilae

BRASILIAE. Indigenous Knowledge in the Making of Science: Historia Naturalis Brasiliae

KNIR Research Alliance

About the project

The ERC-funded project BRASILIAE. Indigenous Knowledge in the Making of Science: Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (2018-2013) is an interdisciplinary study of the role of indigenous knowledge in the making of science.  We investigate how indigenous knowledge was appropriated and transformed into European science by focusing on ethnobotany, ethnozoology, and indigenous material culture. Situated at the intersection of history and anthropology, our project takes the book Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (Piso and Marcgraf 1648) as its central focus. The HNB is one of the most comprehensive products of the encounter between early modern European scholarship and South American indigenous knowledge. In an encyclopaedic format, it brings together textual and visual information about the natural world, linguistics, and geography of colonial Brazil as understood and experienced by Luso-Brazilians, coastal Tupi indigenous populations, and enslaved Africans in the mid-seventeenth century.

The BRASILIAE team investigates the making of the HNB in historical perspective, exploring the material legacies of the intercultural and interdisciplinary context in which it came into existence. While in Brazil in the service of Count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, Piso and Marcgraf compiled a great volume of notes, records, drawings, and sketches of flora, fauna and local people, that would later be partially used to compose the book. A significant amount of these associated materials has survived in different European heritage institutions. Likewise, European ethnographic museums hold thousands of indigenous objects related to knowledge-making practices collected in colonial Brazil. We seek to understand how such objects played a part in the transmission of native knowledge from Brazil to Europe, and how their histories and material transformations help us to understand indigenous histories.

The KNIR-ERC BRASILIAE research alliance provides the institutional framework to facilitate and expand the project’s research into the rich early modern heritage collections kept in Italy, and particularly in Rome.  This includes identifying and studying Brazilian indigenous material culture in Italian ethnographic museums (Rome, Firenze, Bologna, Milano) and the analysis of the reception of such objects in early modern Europe as well as investigating the surviving copies of the HNB in Italian libraries looking for traces of readership and use.

Concretely, this research alliance includes the following activities:

  • (R)MA/PhD-level course Collecting the World in Rome offered at the KNIR (fall 2022)
  • 2 internship positions for (R)MA students to explore ethnographic collections in Italy (winter-spring 2022/23)
  • A small-scale, specialist workshop (TBA)

These activities can be partially co-funded with the ERC BRASILIAE project budget.


About Dr. Françozo

Dr. Mariana Françozo is Associate Professor of Museum Studies at the Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University. Her research stands at the intersection of anthropology and history and focuses on the collection and circulation of indigenous objects and knowledge from Brazil to Europe, with special emphasis on the early modern period. She is author of the book De Olinda a Holanda (Ed. Unicamp, 2014) and of a series of articles on the cultural history of Dutch Brazil and on Brazilian indigenous collections in museums, among others. She is currently PI of the ERC project BRASILIAE. Indigenous Knowledge in the Making of Science: Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (1648).