At the Center of Everything: Local Interests, Imperial Politics, and the Mapping of the Mosetenes Frontier in Late Colonial Bolivia

Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM
Columbia Hall 4 (Washington Hilton)
Heidi Scott, University of Massachusetts Amherst
In the final third of the 18th century, the western fringes of Amazonia were the focus of renewed efforts by secular and religious authorities to convert indigenous populations and incorporate their territories into the colonial state. Along the southern tributaries of the Río Beni, Franciscan missionaries and their secular associates labored to establish missions among the Mosetenes between the 1790s and the final years of Spanish rule. The production of maps and plans by missionaries and colonial officials was integral to these efforts. In this paper I examine a set of maps that was created between 1797 and 1810 by a colonial official named Joaquín Revuelta Velarde who attempted on two occasions to open a route between the yungas district of Chulumani and the Mosetenes missions. Existing scholarship (see e.g. Santamaría 2008) portrays Revuelta’s project of colonization as an endeavor overwhelmingly shaped by local interests and concerns. Although local priorities were indeed crucially important, Revuelta’s maps – virtually ignored in existing studies of Mosetenes – shed light on his efforts to connect his project with the crown’s broader economic and political interests at a trans-vice-regal scale. By examining his selective and strategic use of cartographic sources in the production of his own maps I argue that he sought to present Mosetenes as simultaneously key to the defense of the frontier with Brazil to the east and to the colonization of the Ucayali river valley far to the north. In doing so I emphasize the growing significance of a culture of cartographic literacy at all levels of the colonial administration in the late Bourbon era.
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