Putting Islands in the Archive: Pilots, Apothecaries, Indigenous Peoples, and a Map of Indonesia, c. 1512

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM
Mississippi Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Hugh Glenn Cagle, University of Utah
This paper interprets a set of sketches made in 1512 by a Portuguese pilot, one Francisco Rodrigues, while he sailed through the Lesser Sunda Islands. Rodrigues was aboard the first official Portuguese voyage east of Malacca and his drawings—something of a combination of landscape portraiture, cartography, and natural history—were used by the Portuguese to create a map of the Indonesian archipelago. The drawings include highly detailed renderings of plants, local architecture, and the material culture of several of the peoples whom Rodrigues met along the way. The presentation will explore how blank spaces on maps became meaningful in a cartographic sense not simply by tracing coastlines but through the accumulation of various kinds of information about local peoples, which in turn would allow the Portuguese to distinguish between otherwise unfamiliar places. Colonial medicine and Portuguese natural history depended upon (indeed, were entangled with) a range of tightly intertwined and in some cases rather indistinct fields of intellectual inquiry—cartography, geography, and ethnology among them.

This paper, then, is partly about mapping and the roots of several distinct, modern scientific disciplines as they emerged within the Lusophone world. But there is also a larger comparative issue at stake. Before the Portuguese, Dutch, or other naturalists-cum-imperial agents could locate the far-flung origins of commodifiable plants, they had to construct a geography of "known" places in which to situate them. I argue that this was a practical and epistemological problem that Western naturalists concerned with the hinterlands of Frankfurt or Paris (Leonhart Fuchs or Jean de Ruelle, for example) never contended with, and that the techniques that the Portuguese employed—though certainly not novel—were used in situations that perhaps were.

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