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Espectros y fantasmas" from La ciencia recreativa (1871-73)

(Image courtesy of the British Library)

 The field of optics was one of the most appealing areas to Mexican popular science authors and audiences during the final decades of the nineteenth century. This was due in large part to the genre’s description of the many apparatuses that were developed in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, from the kaleidoscope to the many versions of the magic lantern, which depended on the notion of the trick or illusion.  

This particular volume from La ciencia recreativa is devoted to the physics of optics. The illustration, another by Viuda Murgía e Hijos, which could be said to be a tableau from the first act of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is a dramatic representation of a ghostly apparition in a Gothic edifice. Arriaga’s accompanying text on the workings of optical apparatuses is an attempt to dispel the mystery surrounding such inventions. To do this, he offers the fictitious conversation between a scientist, Petit, and Tío Pablo, an impressionable interlocutor who constantly moves from the incomprehension of a given phenomenon to the gradual understanding of its causes and scientific explanations.

 Text: María del Pilar Blanco

“Espectros y fantasmas 
(Layout from José Joaquín Arriaga’s La ciencia recreativa (1871-73))
Illustration (“Los espectros”) by Viuda Murgía e Hijos