In 1578, and as a direct response to the reforms imposed by the Ordenanzas of 1573, King Philip II, authorized the creation of a printed questionnaire. Distributed throughout American soil, the answers to this interrogatory, or Relaciones Geográficas de América constitute on of the most solid sources of information on the lifestyle and conditions of the settlements in América during this period of time. For example, in the Relación de San Juan de Puerto Rico, the Bachiller de Santa Clara and Juan Ponce de León II clearly discuss how medicinal practices native to the island are utilized in the mainland.
The questionnaire to the Relaciones is thought to have been authored by Juan López de Velasco, the first cosmographer-chronist, the Relaciones Geográficas are considered by many to be the first statistical study . Because of the quantitative nature of the format in which they were compiled, the value of the information these sources provide us with continues to grow with the passage of time. In this application I have included a sample of six of the Relaciones. The transcriptions of the responses to the Questionnaire are: Caracas, Venezuela; Huaxutla, México; San Juan, Puerto Rico; El Tocuyo, Venezuela; Xonotla, México and Zimapán, México
Complimentary to the Relaciones is the Questionnaire for the Observation of the Lunar Eclipse, a printed questionnaire that also contains the instructions for building an instrument to measure the results of the eclipse. This inquiry was also managed by Velasco and is believed to have been the first organized, joint, scientific endeavor between scientists in the new continent and the old world.
With the instruments, techniques, philosophy, and the thirst for quantifiable data about the environment , 16th Century european scientists saw the american continent as a giant laboratory. At the same time, through a process of information exchange generated partly through reports such as the Relaciones Geográficas, scientific knowledge specific to the native cultures of America found its way to the old continent. Therefore, it could be said that in the 16th Century, science forged a communications structure between the two continents.
Click the icon above to see the geographical distribution of the Relaciones included.