Reforming Cartographies in Enlightenment Latin America

AHA Session 119
Conference on Latin American History 29
Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Columbia Hall 4 (Washington Hilton)
Jeffrey Erbig Jr., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Session Abstract

In the eighteenth century, public and private initiatives to master and map Latin America from its coasts to its interior spaces increased in quantity and quality, as professional surveyors, engineers, and scientific expeditions sought to fill in the "empty" spaces where imperial neighbors disputed borderlands, independent indigenous and maroon peoples struggled to maintain their distance and autonomy, and entrepreneurs sought to improve access natural resources. These imperial and private agents turned not only to new technologies and survey methods, but also drew on sources as diverse as local informants and outsiders' observations to acquire usable information. As manuscript maps proliferated in official circuits and engravings circulated more broadly within and between empires, cartographic production helped drive reformist impulses, albeit unevenly, while also serving as a visual tool to make formerly unknowable spaces into Enlightened places—at least on paper. 

The papers in this panel draw our attention to the rich materials of Enlightened Iberoamerican cartography, which have been of less interest to previous scholars than the cartography of the Age of Discovery.  They consider how increased reliance on geographic knowledge and cartographic representation to divide secular and religious jurisdictions, represent major crops, resolve territorial disputes, plan roads, or implement fiscal policies played out for a range of actors in different corners of and relations to Iberoamerican empires.  The scales of analysis, as well as the kinds of map differ, highlighting the penetration of cartographic literacy in the eighteenth-century New World.  Heidi Scott draws on a case study of mapping Spanish Amazonia to identify how a local mapmaker on the ground drew selectively from local information to craft maps to suit imperial goals.  Iris Kantor counters with an analysis of a century of Luso-American mapmaking of the Brazilian interior to identify how place names changed over time in response to changes in imperial agents and initiatives, considering sources produced on site and in Portugal.  Sophie Brockmann’s innovative paper examines the way administrators, merchants and ‘patriots’ in the Spanish colony of Central America sought to alter and put to use local landscapes in the name of Enlightenment utility and progress, considering particularly the sketch and published accounts produced by Guatemala’s economic society, one of many making an impact in political economy throughout late colonial Spanish America.  The connections between cartographic projects and local economic organizations have awaited such attention.  Finally, Jordana Dym considers how maps in eighteenth-century travel accounts, generally prepared by authors and for audiences outside or critical of imperial controls, offered a counterpoint to colonial cartographies as they translated them for a general reading public.  This panel should interest those tracking Atlantic societies’ imperial reforms and subsequent revolutions, the history of science, and visual cultures, as well as those interested in the history of cartography.

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