The department of History of Science and Technology is delighted to announce that Maria Portuondo’s book, The Spanish Disquiet: The Biblical Natural Philosophy of Benito Arias Montano (Chicago, 2019) has been awarded the 2021 Pfizer Prize. This prize is awarded by the History of Science Society in recognition of an outstanding book dealing with the history of science.
Centered on the humanist exegete Benito Arias Montano (ca. 1525-98), The Spanish Disquiet sets the protagonist within the grand sweep of approaches to knowledge in early modern Europe. Rejecting both artisanal empiricism and ancient philosophy as viable pathways out from the epistemological cul de sac that he and other contemporaries feared, Arias Montano undertook a hugely creative and courageous effort, integrating a wide range of forms of knowledge in order to offer a wholesale new interpretation of the natural world and God’s plan for humanity within it. Drawing on her vast scholarship, incisive analysis, and elegant story-telling, and immersing her account within the ferment of period approaches, María Portuondo masterfully charts the quest of this wide-ranging polymath. Arias Montano was highly respected across Europe and widely read in his own day, but has been nearly forgotten as a consequence of subsequent narrowly teleological accounts of the scientific revolution. His “scientific enterprise” emerges from this study as a product of intense soul-searching, spurring ambitious proposals and grandiose designs. Biblical exegesis grounded knowledge of nature to enable humanity’s salvation, demonstrating how modern science emerged from many competing intellectual strands, some of which have faded in retrospective memory. Arias Montanos’ Magnum Opus demands from the historian of science an engagement not only with meteorology, mechanics or botany, but also with biblical philology and Mosaic philosophy. The Spanish Disquiet offers an exemplary alternative model for how and why to write the history of any kind of science, perhaps especially of those roads not taken.