HomeThe Journal of Historyvol. 63 no. 1 (2017)

Scrutinizing Science and Philanthropy: Appreciating Little-known Spanish Expeditions to the Philippines, 1789-1813

Maria Eloisa Parco-de Castro



The Malaspina (1789-1894) and Balmis (1803-1813) Expeditions to the Philippines have remained relatively littleknown and even lesser understood in popular consciousness, even with some revived interest on the latter during its bicentennial commemoration in 2013. Malaspina’s fall from political grace nearly doomed the achievements of his scientific expedition, which partially explained the lack of appreciation for what are now considered genuinely scientific contributions. The Balmis expedition, on the other hand, did not suffer from political persecution. But a full understanding of what it achieved in the Spanish colonies and beyond still eludes it in the Philippines because of the lasting effects of stereotyping the Spanish colonial government as not having done any good at all. This paper closely examines these two pioneering expeditions by reviewing data and knowledge produced by each expedition and assessing how they changed existing knowledge then and now. In doing so, a true appreciation of Malaspina’s and Balmis’ efforts may be gained and a belated, but deserving, recognition of their achievements be done to reshape our own understanding of the past for the better.