ACOSTA, Jose De

(c. 1540-1600)
Josei de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit historian, wrote the earliest European study on Mexico and western South America, Historia natural y moral de las Indias (Natural and Moral History of the Indies, 1590). In De procuranda Indorum salute (1576), Acosta was one of the first Europeans to write at length about European missionary activity in the Americas.
Josei de Acosta worked as a preacher, teacher, and leader of the Jesuits in Peru for fourteen years. When Acosta arrived in Lima in 1572, he immediately addressed the problem of converting the native population to Christianity. He learned the native language, Quechua, in Cuzco and examined firsthand the situation of the Indians. In De procuranda Indorum salute Acosta argued that the native peoples were capable of being evangelized. He wrote the first book to be published in Peru, a catechism written in local native languages (1584). While he believed that Spain fulfilled the will of divine providence in its con­quest of the Americas, he complained to the king about colonial policies that burdened the native population.
Acosta sought to educate Europeans about the native peoples of the Americas and their natural surroundings in his Historia natural. Acosta described the geography, the climate, and the plant and animal life of Mexico and Peru. He depicted the culture of the indigenous peoples: their economic, educational, po­litical, and religious beliefs and institutions. He asserted that the native peoples had reached a high level of cultural development that could be perfected by the introduction of Christianity.
Acosta's depiction of the native peoples evinces a mixture of forward-thinking notions about universal human dignity with condescending Eurocentric attitudes. He argued for universal human equality while also characterizing native peoples as childish, barbaric, and unintelligent. His Historia natural was widely read by educated Spaniards and was translated into other European languages. Through De procuranda Indorum salute and Historia natural Acosta contributed in a fundamental way to the formation of European attitudes toward native Ameri­cans as Europe sought to incorporate them and their lands into its orbit of influence in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Bibliography
E. O'Gorman, Cuatro historiadores de Indias, 1989.
Evelyn Toft

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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