Historiography and Empire in the Early Modern Atlantic World

AHA Session 79
Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Sheraton Ballroom III (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Daniel Woolf, Queen's University
Paul Cheney, University of Chicago

Session Abstract

During the Renaissance, politically savvy rulers began to utilize written history to legitimize their rule and shape perceptions of their schemes by patronizing historians and historical writing.  The Columbian encounter and the subsequent broadening of geographical knowledge awakened the European imagination to the possibilities of overseas empire.  By the early decades of the sixteenth century, both the Spanish and Portuguese were actively creating Atlantic empires, while other groups such as the Dutch, English, French, and German-speaking peoples explored the prospect of empire through the translation, interpretation, and dissemination of their competitors’ accounts of the New World, as well as documenting their own ventures.  From the moment Columbus returned from his initial voyage, historians played an active role in the process of documenting and analyzing the developing empires.  As Pietro Martire d’Anghiera grappled with accounts of the newfound lands in crafting his Decades, so too did numerous historians seek to chronicle and interpret this emerging Atlantic world through the intervening centuries until independence and beyond.  The official role of state-sponsored historiographers has been well documented, most recently by Richard L. Kagan; the ruling classes continued to seek to project their own image of empire through historical writing as the interpretation of arcana imperii.  While this historical mode persisted into the age of Atlantic empires, novel themes emerged—including commerce, the circulation of peoples, and the confrontation of foreign cultures—that helped historians shape the course of empire through their writings.  Historical writing in the Early Modern Atlantic World arose out of and served the interests of the Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish Empires, but that same writing was also instrumental in developing a discourse critical of their efforts.

Chaired and commentated by Daniel Woolf and Paul Cheney, leading scholars in the field of early modern historiography, this session will examine the relationship between the construction, production, and dissemination of historiography and the creation of empires in the early modern Atlantic World, circa 1500 to 1700. Ian J Aebel argues that John Ogilby’s America is a vehicle through which the Anglo-American historical narrative began to dominate American historical discourse in Europe at the end of the seventeenth century.  Carlos Gálvez-Peña demonstrates how seventeenth century “religious scholars based in Lima produced an historiographical discourse aimed at revising colonial history and advance the claims of Peruvian creole elites.”  Tamara Griggs discusses “the ways in which the new Dutch overseas possessions along with the commercial and territorial conflict with England shaped [Georg] Horn’s apocalyptic world history.”  Finally, Susan L. Hogue explores “how Inca histories were “created” under a Western model by Spanish and Mestizo writers such as Garcilaso de la Vega, Juan de Betanzos, Juan Polo de Ondegardo, Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa and others.”  We envision a broad audience for this session, as our topic will appeal to early modern scholars across the geographical spectrum, and believe it fits well within the general meeting theme of "Communities and Networks."

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