Caldas, Francisco José de (1768–1816)

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Caldas, Francisco José de (1768–1816)

Francisco José de Caldas (b. 4 October 1768; d. October 1816), astronomer, cartographer, mathematician, and engineer in New Granada's pro-Independence army. Born in Popayán, Caldas was urged by his family to practice law. Instead he became one of the most prominent creole scientists of the early 1800s, participating in the Royal Botanical Expedition of José Celestino Mutis (1805) and later becoming director of the Royal Astronomy Observatory of Bogotá. His journal, El Semanario del Nuevo Reino de Granada, was one of the first scientific periodicals to be published in Latin America. As professor of mathematics at the progressive Colegio del Rosario in Bogotá, Caldas encouraged the dissemination of modern science, including Newtonian experimental physics and Copernican cosmography.

Although he benefited from his contacts with the influential German investigator Alexander von Humboldt, Caldas called on American scientists to end their dependence on Europeans. He discovered independently that the temperature of boiling water was proportional to atmospheric pressure and devised a formula to measure altitude with a thermometer. He also studied the properties and value of cinchona (quinine) bark and of cochineal.

Caldas personified the late colonial Latin American striving for scientific, economic, and, eventually, political independence. After 1810, he served the independence cause as coeditor of the official Diario Político and as captain of the newly created Corps of Engineers. Captured by the Spanish royalists in 1816, he was executed as a rebel. His death, and that of other creole insurgent scientists, dealt a near fatal blow to the continuity of scientific inquiry from the colony to the republic.

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The Obras completas (Bogotá, 1966) includes a biographical note by Alfredo D. Bateman. See also Thomas Glick, "Science and Independence in Latin America (with Special Reference to New Granada)," in Hispanic American Historical Review 71, no. 2 (1991): 307-334.

John Wilton Appel, Francisco José de Caldas: A Scientist at Work in New Granada (1994).

Additional Bibliography

González Pérez, Marcos. Francisco José de Caldas y la ilustración en la Nueva Granada. Bogotá: Ediciones Tercer Mundo, 1984.

                                Iris H. W. Engstrand

                                 Louisa S. Hoberman

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Caldas, Francisco José de (1768–1816)

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