During the reign of the Spanish King Charles III (1716-1788), enlightened monarch of who third centenary of his birth is commemorated this year, an interest in exploration of the New World was develop. It was manifested in the discovery and cataloguing of thousands of plant and animal species and in the creation of a native tradition in America.
Charles III started a series of reforms intended primarily to rationalize administration, to liberalise trade to increase its defence, that in the field of the science, he included an ambitious American programme focused on sent of many scientific expeditions.
These initiatives don’t demerit project, that at the same time, were being realized by another nations as Great Britain (James Cook), France or Germany. In the case of Spain, these explorations in America were no new, but during the eighteenth century, named Age of Enlightenment, these were done with a new rationality imposed by the Enlightenment.
60 scientific expeditions in 65 years
The expeditions, in addition to be a consequence of the enlightened Bourbon policy, were result of factor, as well as political -need to border delimitation-, as economic as need to explore new natural resources.
In 65 years, between 1735 and 1800, about seventy scientific expeditions were carried out. These ranged from ocean and river expeditions to botanic, cartographic and astronomy expeditions.
Precisely, the first official scientific expedition, French-Spanish, (1735 -1745) has as aim to measure arc of the earth meridian in Ecuador. In this, it was crucial the work of the two young Spanish sailors, the Seville naturalist Antonio de Ulloa and naval architect, astronomer and mathematician from Alicante, Jorge Juan, who proved Earth was flattened on its poles.
Other was dedicated to setting borders between Spanish and Portuguese domains, known as Expeditions of the Limits, whose tensions were not far to provoke clashes in the area.
However, although these journeys has as aim to define the limits, the Government showed a specific interest in the study of the nature. That was the case of the expedition led by Felix de Azara, Aragonese military man and naturalist who travelled to Paraguay in 1781 to live all his life in America, where he devoted himself to the study of the botany, in which he described more than 400 species. His pertinent works had an influence on Darwin, therefore, he is known as the Spanish Darwin.