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"La vida de las flores" from La ciencia recreativa (1871-73)

(Image courtesy of The British Library)

This image is taken from the Botany volume of José Joaquín Arriaga’s La ciencia recreativa. While the publication was aimed at children and the working classes, as stated on the cover page, another target audience was the women of Mexico. Botany appears to be the province of women, and Arriaga dedicates this volume to his wife, Guadalupe Ponce de León de Arriaga, his “amante y tierna compañera.” The volume is quite unique in its presentation of a foldable colour illustration of a bouquet of flowers.

Women and children had been target audiences for Western popular science publications from the genre’s inception. One early example, as science historian Bernard Lightman notes, is John Newberry’s Tom Telescope’s Newtonian System of Philosophy, adapted to the capacities of young gentlemen and ladies (1761). Later, in the early eighteenth century, authors like the science writer Mary Sommerville wrote stories in which a given topic was discussed between different interlocutors, often women or children. Arriaga’s chosen format in La ciencia recreativa took on this air of familiarity to discuss scientific matters, illustrating a link between unspecialized knowledge and the domestic sphere. 

Text: María del Pilar Blanco

Artist unknown
“La vida de las floresLa ciencia recreativa (José Joaquín Arriaga), 1871-73