GONZALO FERNÁNDEZ DE OVIEDO Y VALDÉS was born in Madrid in 1478 and came to be one of the foremost scholars of his time. He grew up in close proximity to the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, where he held various important positions. In his adult years, Oviedo was assigned to work on several Italian campaigns before traveling to the Americas, where he would complete some of his most important works. Among these works is the Historia general y natural de las Indias, the first comprehensive history of Spanish America. This work is a detailed account of Spain’s discovery, conquest, and colonization of the Americas from 1492 to 1547, as well as its flora, fauna, and indigenous peoples.
In the decades that Oviedo spent writing the Historia, he traveled and immersed himself in the world he was writing about. He completed numerous interviews with Spanish and indigenous leaders, rendered the first extensive field drawings of America done by a European, cataloged the behavior and appearance of unfamiliar creatures (many of which have now gone extinct), gave detailed ethnographic descriptions of indigenous groups, and outlined the conquest and colonization process. Over an astounding fifty “books,” Oviedo chronicled the beginnings of a new era for both Europe and Latin America and, in 1532, he was appointed official chronicler of the Indies.
The first part of the Historia, which is comprised of nineteen books, was published by the Spanish Academy of History in Seville in 1535. However, as a collection, the entire Historia general y natural de las Indias was not printed until 1851, well after Oviedo’s death in 1557. Oviedo served as an exemplary historian, anthropologist, and naturalist and still remains relevant to many modern-day researchers, allowing them to connect with the past in ways that never seemed possible.
Texts by Fernández de Oviedo (Click on link to access full-text PDF):
Historia Natural: Volume Three
Libro de la camara real del prinçipe don Juan e officios de su casa e servicio ordinario