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Gentlemen of the Fixed Point: Science, Politics and Adventure in the Geodesic Expedition to the Viceroyalty of Peru in the XVIII Century

AutorLafuente, Antonio ; Mazuecos, Antonio
Fecha de publicación1998
ResumenThe following pages tell the tale of a journey in which the protagonists, striving to find solutions to specific problems and eager for glory and academic recognition, brandish all the ancient passions and vices remiscent of hunters, soldiers and merchants, but transposed to an intellectual plane and accepted as virtues. There, in the Andean mountains, their mission cannot be clearly defined, for while at times it approached the asceticism of a hermit, at other moments it also matched the more down-to-earth philosophy of a watchmaker. And of course there was no lack of heroic deeds, noble gestures or displays of noble feelings. Few times in history have scientists been found in the solitude and idyllic tranquility of Mount Parnassus. Furthermore, the myth of pure science, the notion that an ideological or political compromise by the scientist comprises an intolerable corruption, was undoubtedly a 19th century concept. Even though it still finds its supporters and the specter of this secular sermon still rises its head in academic circles, it must be admitted that the theory does not coincide with the practice. In any case, the facts we will soon describe take on the shape of a richer and more tangible reality, without needing to place historical evidence omn the torturer's rack.
The main theme of this book is firstly the question of the shape of the Earth, a problem which was identified and partly resolved in this period, and secondly the geodesic expeditions which, organized by the Academy of Paris, aspired to decisively resolve the dispute. The two theses, whether the Earth was flattened at the equator or at the poles, were endorsed by two cosmological standpoints, the Newtonian and the Cartesian, both of which had implications as profound as the ingredients comprising the polemic were varied.
Descripción219 pages.-- Unpublished translation, available online via Digital.CSIC as of Aug 2009.-- Translated from Spanish by Elizabeth Glick and Garfield C. D. Robinson.
Table of contents: Introduction.- 1. Astronomers, Geometricians and Geodesists.-2. London and Paris: Two Sciences of the Earth.- 3. Colonial Quito.- 4. Rise and Fall of a Polemic.- 5. National Glory.
Spanish version "Los caballeros del punto fijo: ciencia, política y aventura en la expedición geodésica hispanofrancesa al virreinato del Perú en el siglo XVIII" available at: http://digital.csic.es/handle/10261/16893
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