Best described by Immanuel Kant as, “mankind’s exit from its self-incurred immaturity”[1], the enlightenment was an intellectual revolution which spanned across Europe freeing the human consciousness from ignorance and error. By the latter half of the 18th century European states managed to integrate practices of the enlightenment, gathering knowledge, categorising and understanding the world. “Scientific inquiry had joined the established motives of territorial acquisition, commercial gain … as dominant themes for European exploration.”[2]  The expansion of knowledge went hand in hand with expansion of the known world, the race to categorise, discover and conquer these new worlds was underway, but to what extent could this desire for expansion and exploration be attributed to the enlightenment with reference to Britain, France and Spain.

Centres of calculations were set up across Europe to record and categorise the vast amounts of information being discovered in the new world.[3] The trade of knowledge took place throughout Europe through sharing of ideas for the purpose of mutual advancement.[4] Spain had the museum of natural history situated in Madrid, France had the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle and prior to this they had the Jardin royal des plantes médicinales and the Royal society England was situated in London.[5] These institutions were strongly linked to the enlightenment process, the discipline of understanding and making sense of the world was intrinsic to these institutions forged, in the enlightenment with the objective of understanding the world completely.[6]

When looking at Britain, exploration and the enlightenment the role of Joseph Banks cannot be ignored, presiding as president of the Royal society for forty-one years overseeing Britain during the period of understanding and classification.[7]  His control of Britain’s naturalist movement which sort to categorise the world did not adhere to the general rules of enlightenment, with the diffusion of knowledge being limited and not readily available to all, this lead to many private collections being established for the purpose of profit.[8] Many Banksian collectors such as Anton Hove looked for commercially valuable resources such as fine cotton seeds, this process was seen to streamline the exploitation of the non-European world[9]. Joseph Banks controlled and commissioned many voyages of discovery which according to Lewis Pyenson, “produced little new knowledge,” later describing English scientific exploration in the latter stage of the eighteenth century as corrupted by Banks’s “primitive empiricism”[10].

Unlike Britain which had commercialism at the forefront of the mind, French scientific exploration was conducted by those of the learned community; philosophers, experts and scholars who strove for simplification of the natural world and its inventory.[11] The elevated position which the pursuit of knowledge can be seen to be at its most prominent between the years on 1751-1772, which saw the publication of the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (English: Encyclopaedia or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Crafts)[12]. Diderot, a key participant of the enlightenment movement and also the editor of the Encyclopédie where the integration of the mechanical arts with the liberal arts and sciences was emphasized.[13] The practice encyclopaedism which saw the creation of articles about the world ranging from asparagus to the zodiac which was stored within the Encyclopédie, the seminal document for the enlightenment during the eighteenth century. [14]

“The purpose of an encyclopedia is to collect knowledge disseminated around the globe; to set forth its general system to the men with whom we live, and transmit it to those who will come after us, so that the work of preceding centuries will not become useless to the centuries to come; and so that our offspring, becoming better instructed, will at the same time become more virtuous and happy, and that we should not die without having rendered a service to the human race in the future years to come.”[15]

At the same time of the Encyclopédie’s publication, the regular book trade flourished and the intellectual networks persisted and altered to the new situation.[16] Encyclopaedists gathered knowledge of places all around the world, which gave rise to new and more tolerant views on other cultures which lasted until the 19th century when these cultures were early stages of modern racism were harboured.[17] Thanks to Linnaeus and Buffon new networks of natural history were created. The Republic of Letters and the establishment of new learned societies gave rise to a cultural sociability.[18] That coupled with Carolus Linnaeus’s work in the field of botany along with others all aided the intellectual climate of the time. The acceptance of naturalism caused the world to be looked at in a new light where customs and history of regions were being documented along with the natural wealth in the form of resources.[19] Spain was a nation which focussed heavily on botany as the primary discipline with eighty-seven per cent of all specimens sent back to Spain from the empire are linked to botanicals with the hope of finding a substance which could be beneficial in terms of medicinal, nutritional and ultimately commercial uses.[20]   The focus upon the natural world can be seen as early as 1700 with Filipe V who requested for Spanish colonies to send unusual plants to Madrid’s museum of natural history, where a leading naturalists of the time, Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa were entrusted with writing up the discoveries of the new world within the history of Spain. This can be seen as reaffirming the Spanish claim upon territories within the new world whilst obeying enlightenment ideals which can be seen in this process of the classification of the new discoveries, thus enlightenment and exploration and imperial expansion tie together. Spanish naturalists focused their efforts of categorisation in North and South America, with the discoveries aiding their prestige through its inclusion in their national history.

 

The voyages of discovery for imperial nations were an important element to the imperial expansion, equal to that of the naval domination of the sea. Efficiency upon such voyages was severely damaged due to diseases which claimed the lives of thousands of sailors, scurvy being the main killer. The effects of the disease were all too apparent during the Seven Years War which saw the death of approximately seventy per cent of all British conscripted seamen with over 130,000 deaths showing the despair which followed any oceanic expedition.[21] During voyages the cost of ill health made the entire imperial process financially draining though benefits outweighed the financial loss, the cost of human life was tremendous. The nation which recognised this problem and actively sought to tackle and remove the disease from ships was Britain, discovering the leading cause was the absence of vitamin C from sailors diets.[22] Investigations into what constituted as favourable conditions for the disease to thrive were undertaken, with the ultimate goal of understanding and therefore being able to enact preventative measures to improve efficiency of seaman and in turn the navy.[23] The benefits only truly were witnessed after the period which this essay focusses upon with the Napoleonic sea battles in many instances victories for Britain were attributed the health of her seamen as being the most important factor for victory.

Practical scientific advances were looked at more so by the British in an attempt to gain advantages and the upper hand over her closest European rival, France, all in the name of prestige. Intense rivalry can be seen to be a driving factor behind much of the imperialistic motives which went along with exploration and expansion.[24] In the aftermath of the seven years’ war France had lost much of her overseas territories thus new regions of the globe were seen as territories which could be exploited and claimed by European powers.[25] These regions saw “England and France developed interest in the unexplored region of the Pacific, stimulated by the intellectual fever of the Enlightenment.”[26] Spain were an imperial nation in decline in the eighteenth century, holding onto their conquests of the past and not playing much of a role in the way of expansion of their territories in this era. However the process of enlightenment can still be seen in the many explorations of their territories with the ultimate goal of aiding, their learning about the natural world.[27] The enlightenment, at least in terms of Spain, manufactured the desire of exploration; however imperial expansion wasn’t fundamental in facilitating the desire for knowledge in the era.

Ernest Dodge argues that the voyages of discovery and imperial expansion of the era have substantial links to the enlightenment, they are linked naturally to one another making the enlightenment movement the causal factor for exploration and expansion. The “desire to discover more new lands, to study the natives of the newly found islands, and finally to exploit the natural resources that might benefit trade and commerce,”[28] were created through the new mind set derived from a learned society.[29] Charles Withers adapts the argument of Ernest Dodge by positioning monetary gains, in the way of natural resources, to be of greater importance than the acquisition of knowledge when looking at imperial expansion in the Pacific.[30]

The three nations looked at in this essay were all effected very differently during the latter half of the eighteenth century in regards to imperial expansion. The main shift in overseas territories can be seen to of taken place after 1763 with the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War. Which saw the submission of many French territories to England, this loss effected the prestige of the major imperial power. Looking at the Seven Years War the notion of enlightenment is non-existent. Intense rivalry in the way of the military, political and international assets are the key themes behind the conflict. This proves that imperial expansion does not necessarily need to be effected by the notion of modernity.

The enlightenment distributed knowledge around the globe through the production of great works of literature and the collections of scientific understanding in the form of Encyclopedia’s and the knowledge recorded at the great centres of calculations within Europe. The significance of the enlightenment is almost immeasurable when looked at in conjunction with the notion of exploration. Exploring the world aided the enlightenment and the want to classify the world came from this very modern movement. Learning about the natural world for example was the primary goal of the Spanish, with particular focus on botany. That being said they were also became leading traders of precious metals due to their overseas resources, the desire to find consumer goods took place due to the vast wealth which the new world offered. Britain and France vary somewhat from Spain, they competed at every level of the enlightenment era which ultimately finished with Britain assuming control over many French territories and expanding her power as an Imperial nation. Imperial expansion, was both the cause and a by-product of European exploration, but battling amongst each other for prestige.

 

 

Bibliography

Aston. Nigel, Christianity and Revolutionary Europe, 1750-1830, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

 

Kant. Immanuel, “An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” trans. James Schmidt, in What Is Enlightenment: Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions, ed. James Schmidt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p. 58

Stewart. Larry, ‘Other centres of calculation, or, where the Royal Society didn’t count: commerce, coffee-houses and natural philosophy in early modern London’, British Journal for the History of Science, 32, (1999), pp. 133-53, p. 140

Withers. Charles W. J., Placing the Enlightenment: Thinking Geographically about the Age of Reason, (Chicargo: University of Chicargo press, 2007), p. 107

Burns. William E., Science in the Enlightenment: An Encyclopedia, (Santa Barbra: ABC-CLIO, 2003), pp. 249-247

Outram. Dorinda, The Enlightment, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 22

Gilbert. L. A., ‘Banks, Sir Joseph (1743–1820)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/banks-sir-joseph-1737/text1917, accessed 9 January 2013

Miller. David Philip, Reill. Peter Hanns, Visions of Empire: Voyages, Botany, and Representations of Nature, (Camridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) p. 38

Pyenson. Lewis, ‘Over the Bounding Main’,  Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, 20, (1990), pp. 407-422, pp. 409-410

Wilson. Ellen Judy, Peter Hanns Reill, Encyclopedia Of The Enlightenment, (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2004), p. 175

Jones. Colin, The Great Nation, (London: Penguin press, 2003), p. 171

Stark. Sam, Diderot: French Philosopher and Father of the Encyclopedia, (New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2005), p. 75

Melton. James Van Horn, The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 141

Morley. John, Works: Diderot and the encyclopaedists, (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1923), p.157

Dixhoorn. Arjan Van and Sutch. Susie Speakman, The Reach of the Republic of Letters: Literary and Learned Societies in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, (Leiden: BRILL, 2008), p. 156

Wootton. David, Bad Medicine : Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates: Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates, (Oxford: Oxford university press, 2006); p. 127

[1] Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” trans. James Schmidt, in What Is Enlightenment: Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions, ed. James Schmidt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p. 58

[2] Stephen Haycox ,James Barnett and Caedmon Liburd, Enlightenment and Exploration in the North Pacific, 1741-1805, (Washington: University of Washington Press: 1997), p. 25

[3] Larry Stewart, ‘Other centres of calculation, or, where the Royal Society didn’t count: commerce, coffee-houses and natural philosophy in early modern London’, British Journal for the History of Science, 32, (1999), pp. 133-53, p. 140

[4] Charles W. J. Withers, Placing the Enlightenment: Thinking Geographically about the Age of Reason, (Chicargo: University of Chicargo press, 2007), p. 107

[5] William E. Burns, Science in the Enlightenment: An Encyclopedia, (Santa Barbra: ABC-CLIO, 2003), pp. 249-247

[6] Dorinda Outram, The Enlightment, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 22

[7] L. A. Gilbert, ‘Banks, Sir Joseph (1743–1820)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/banks-sir-joseph-1737/text1917, accessed 9 January 2013

[8] David Philip Miller, Peter Hanns Reill, Visions of Empire: Voyages, Botany, and Representations of Nature, (Camridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) p. 38

[9] David Philip Miller, Peter Hanns Reill, Visions of Empire: Voyages, Botany, and Representations of Nature, (Camridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) p. 39

[10] Lewis Pyenson, ‘Over the Bounding Main’,  Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, 20, (1990), pp. 407-422, pp. 409-410

[11] Lewis Pyenson, ‘Over the Bounding Main’,  Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, 20, (1990), pp. 407-422, pp. 409-410

[11] David Philip Miller, Peter Hanns Reill, Visions of Empire: Voyages, Botany, and Representations of Nature, (Camridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) p. 22

[12] Ellen Judy Wilson, Peter Hanns Reill, Encyclopedia Of The Enlightenment, (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2004), p. 175

[13] Colin Jones , The Great Nation, (London: Penguin press, 2003), p. 171

[14] Nigel Aston, Christianity and Revolutionary Europe, 1750-1830, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p.95

[15] Sam Stark, Diderot: French Philosopher and Father of the Encyclopedia, (New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2005), p. 75

[16] James Van Horn Melton, The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 141

[17] John Morley, Works: Diderot and the encyclopaedists, (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1923), p.157

[18] Arjan Van Dixhoorn and Susie Speakman Sutch, The Reach of the Republic of Letters: Literary and Learned Societies in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, (Leiden: BRILL, 2008), p. 156

[20] Stephen Haycox ,James Barnett and Caedmon Liburd, Enlightenment and Exploration in the North Pacific, 1741-1805, (Washington: University of Washington Press: 1997), p. 25

[21] David Wootton, Bad Medicine : Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates: Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates, (Oxford: Oxford university press, 2006); p. 127

[22] David Wootton, Bad Medicine : Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates: Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates, (Oxford: Oxford university press, 2006); p. 127

[23] Cheryl A. Fury, The Social History of English Seamen, (Woodbridge: DS Brewer, 2012); p. 222

[24] Derek Howse, Background to Discovery: Pacific Exploration from Dampier to Cook, (Los Angeles: University Of California Press, 1990), p. 34

[25] Melvin, E. Page, Colonialism, (santa Babra: ABC – Clio, 2003), p. 525

[26] Stephen Haycox ,James Barnett and Caedmon Liburd, Enlightenment and Exploration in the North Pacific, 1741-1805, (Washington: University of Washington Press: 1997), p. 26

[27] Margarettea Lincon, Science and Exploration in the Pacific: European Voyages to the Southern Oceans in the Eighteenth Century, (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1998), p. 101

[28] Derek Howse, Background to Discovery: Pacific Exploration from Dampier to Cook, (Los Angeles: University Of California Press, 1990), p. 34

[29] Howse, Background to Discovery, p. 131

[30] Withers. Charles, Placing the Enlightenment: Thinking Geographically about the Age of Reason, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), p. 88

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