Ngulu-maza, iguaragua or cow-fish? Local and global natural knowledge production and diffusion; practices and perceptions about marine animals in the Atlantic 1453-1786


Code . IF/00610/2015

Start . 2017

Duration . 17 months

Principal Investigator .  Cristina Brito (CHAM)



Funding Entity

Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia

Main Research Unit

CHAM — Centro de Humanidades

Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas / Universidade Nova de Lisboa



New, strange and exotic marine animals were discovered and described since the early days of the exploration of the Atlantic—new and strange in the eyes of European pilots, settlers, naturalists and humanists but not so much to the native people. Local concepts, practices, uses and perceptions of sea animals were different among different Atlantic cultures and changed during the early modern period both geographically and temporally. In this project, marine fauna are to be analyzed as case studies in maritime history and the marine environmental history of the Portuguese Atlantic, from 1453 (Zurara’s descriptions of monk seals) to 1786 (Rodrigues Ferreira’s note on Amazon manatees. The Atlantic and its peripheries will be addressed as a new way of perceiving the world in new geographical, natural and cultural dimensions and as a valuable marine resource soon to become an economical power, which ultimately lead to the dwindling of entire marine populations. This will be the first study to use sources on manatees (the African ngulu-maza or the Tupi iguaragua) and sea turtles to discuss changing practices and perceptions towards exotic nature and the sea (15th-18thcentury). It will contribute to the history of natural history, regarding the production of knowledge and concepts by Europeans and indigenous peoples in different parts of the Atlantic world. The project will be framed by the concept of a hybrid Atlantic, where ecology and place, science and medicine, and all different actors, helped create an Atlantic defined by its cross-cultural encounters, mixed identities and local contexts. 









Cristina Brito   .   Coordenator

Nina Vieira (CHAM)


Ana Catarina Garcia (CHAM)


Joana Gaspar Freitas (IELT/NOVA FCSH)





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