Alzate Y Ramírez, Jos

views updated

Alzate Y Ramírez, José Antonio

(b. Ozumba, Mexico, 1738; d. Mexico City, Mexico, 1799)

natural history, mathematics, geography, astronomy.

Born into a wealthy country family, Alzate attended San Ildefonso College and graduated in 1753 with a bachelor of arts degree. In 1756, he received a bachelor of divinity degree from the University of Mexico, and was subsequently ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.

An enthusiastic naturalist and man of letters, Alzate was a member of the Sociedad Económica Vascongada, the Real Jardin Botánico de Madrid, and the Acadèmie Royale des Sciences de Paris. He embraced the ideas of the Enlightenment and devoted his life to the study of all branches of natural science. On various occasions, he was commissioned by the colonial government to solve problems affecting the public interest. His principal aim was to transcend the Aristotelian philosophy of his day and to promote the development of technology in New Spain. The value of his scientific production was not consistent however, for his work covered a great many fields and was often conducted in an unfavorable atmosphere.

Aggressive by nature, Alzate was continually involved in scientific polemics, and his sarcasm aroused the animosity of his colleagues. He struggled to contradict the European opinions regarding the inferiority of American scientific knowledge. When Charles III of Spain sent a botanical expedition to New Spain, Alzate touched off a lengthy controversy by defending the advanced botanical knowledge of the ancient Mexicans and criticizing the Spaniards’ application of Linnaean methods and principles.

Using his own limited economic resources, Alzate founded several scientific periodicals: Diario literario de México (1768); Asuntos varios sobre ciencias y arles (1772); Observaciones sobre la fisica, historia natural y artes utiles (1787); and Gazeta de literatura (1788–1795). On the basis of these journals, all of which were designed to improve the country’s welfare through technology, Alzate is considered to be one of the pioneers of scientific journalism in the western hemisphere.

As a result of his continuous efforts to promote the scientific advancement of his countrymen and his successful fight to abolish the scholastic systems used in the colonial institutions, Alzate is regarded as one of of the forerunners of Mexican independence. In 1884, the Sociedad Cientifica Antonio Alzate (now known as the Academia Nacional de Ciencias) was founded in Mexico City. Many Mexican intellectuals consider Alzate to be the father of modern natural science in Mexico.


For information on Alzate’s life and work, see F. Fernández del Castillo, “Apuntes para la biografia del Presbitero Bachiller J. A. F. de Alzate y Ramírez,” in Memorias de la Sociedad cientifica “Antonio Alzate,”48 (1927), 347–375; J. Galindo y Villa, “El Pbro. J. A. Alzate y Ramárez, Apuntes biográficos y bibliográficos,’ ibid., 3 (1889–1890), 125-183, and “El enciclopedista Antonio Alzate,” in Memorias de la Academia nacional de ciencias “Antonio Alzate,”54 (1934), 9-14; A. Gómez Orozco, “Don Antonio Alzate y Ramirez,” in Humanidades. 1 (1943), 169-177. See also R. Moreno Montes de Oca, “Alzate y la conciencia nacional,” in Memorias de la Academia nacional de ciencias “Antonio Alzate,”57 (1955), 561-572, and “Alzate y su concepción de la ciencia,” in Memorias del primer coloquio mexicano de historia de la ciencia, 2 (1965), 185–200; B. Navarro, “Alzate, símbolo de la cultura ilustrada mexicana,” in Memorias de la Academia nacional de ciencias “Antonio Alzate,”57 (1952). 176-183.

Enrique BeltrÁn