Add to my Schedule Drift 25, Rm. 302 26 Jul 2019 Organized Session
Earth and Environmental Sciences 13:30 - 15:30
20190726T1330 20190726T1530 Europe/Amsterdam People, Science, and Environment in Latin America This session brings together papers that show how interactions with Latin American environments shaped scientific practices over three centuries, spanning the colonial and independent period. They dis... Drift 25, Rm. 302 History of Science Society 2019 meeting@hssonline.org

This session brings together papers that show how interactions with Latin American environments shaped scientific practices over three centuries, spanning the colonial and independent period. They discuss how a variety of scientific practices intersected with understandings of landscapes and environments (both natural and anthropogenic). They focus on a variety of practitioners, including pilots, natural historians and geographers in the early modern Spanish empire, and archaeologists and botanists in the 19th and 20th centuries. Papers show that local traditions as well as scientific practitioners, based 'in the field' or in scientific or political institutions far removed from this context, contributed to understandings of these environments. Concrete interactions with the landscape and imaginary environmental constructs, in turn, also came to shape scientific practices. All these papers focus on environments that have been singled out throughout history as 'extreme' in their remoteness, aridity or tropicality, and came to be part of an archetypal canon of Latin American nature in European science: the land- and sea-scapes of 18th-century Patagonia, the remote (yet strategically vital) landscape of Paraná, the often-arid environments of South America's west coast, and the agricultural landscapes of Central America. However, they have rarely been considered a factor in the making of scientific knowledge. Instead, they have been assumed to be a passive object of scientific enquiry, rather than a key factor in the interaction between science, society and politics.

Organized by Sophie Brockmann

Dry Subjects: The Collection of "Artificial" and "Natural" Mummies from Peru in the Nineteenth Century History of Science
13:30 - 14:00
To preserve the dead requires a well-timed pause—a cultural and technological application of energy or chemicals to create an indefinite ellipsis between a being’s biological expiration and the decay of their matter. In the eighteenth century, natural historians borrowed a word from the Old World, ‘mummy,’ to describe ancient human specimens of that dead worldwide. These conditions are also environmentally occurring, which in some ‘extreme’ places allows the living to preserve the expired with so little effort that distinctions between living and dead subjects blur. Once such place is in South America, where peoples harnessed nitre-rich sands on the Pacific coast, and the western Andes’ cold, dry air, to preserve dead for millennia—a coupling remarked upon since the 1500s, when that place became ‘Peru.’ These conditions made the country a particularly globalized site of environmental and historical science and, when Peru’s Independence from Spain was declared in 1821, made its Inca or “ancient Peruvian” dead into highly collectible specimens, studied to distinguish between ‘artificial’ and ‘natural’ mummies. Yet when that dead travelled, they challenged epistemologies that insisted upon those distinctions. Removed from Peru’s culturally manipulated environment, the dead sometimes began to rot, requiring reproduction of ‘Peruvian’ environmental and cultural conditions to ensure preservation. In other words, if these mummies weren’t ‘artificial’ or ‘Peruvian’ beforehand, collectors ensured that that was what they became. This paper therefore explores how the reproduction of place in the history of science extended supposedly peripheral cultures and geographies of science into the metropole.
Charting an Environmental Frontier: The Hydrographic Expeditions of Colonial Spanish America to the Western Patagonian Channels (1760s-1790s)
14:00 - 14:30
As the European empires expanded to the Pacific region in the 18th century, the passages that linked the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean began to play a more significant role in the connection and navigation of the globe. In spite of it being perceived as a remote and a dangerous environment, the southern passages such as the Patagonian channels attracted the attention of several scientific expeditions conducted by the British and Spanish Empires. Recently, historiography has addressed the Spanish metropolitan expeditions that transformed this remote waterscape into a scientific laboratory by fathoming and charting this seascape. Building on this, the paper will focus on the scientific expeditions sent by the colonial authorities in Spanish America, emphasising their role and contribution to the knowledge of the region. The paper will explore two ideas. Firstly, it will address this seascape as an environmental frontier, exploring the geographical images generated by these local expeditions that depicted Western Patagonia as a dangerous and untamed nature. Secondly, it will address the way in which the expeditions sent from Lima and Santiago generated a corpus of local knowledge, highlighting the role of Spanish pilots based in South America and the expertise of local sailors in the production of hydrographic and geographic knowledge of the Patagonian environment. By studying such cases, this paper challenges the more traditional perspectives that depict the region as a mere consumer of metropolitan knowledge, as it explores the ways in which the Patagonian environment influenced the scientific practices of the explorers.
Eighteen Years in the Paraná: Explorations of Latin American Nature by Diego de Alvear y Ponce de Leon
14:30 - 15:00
Following the Treaty of Madrid (1750) a bilateral Boundary Demarcation Commission was established to negotiate a permanent Luso-Hispanic Boundary in Ibero-America. The division between Spanish and Portuguese America remained imprecise, metaphorically drawn through a wild hinterland characterized by impenetrability and seclusion. Owing to the lack of scientific observations, the Commission dispatched parties of geographers to survey the limits and study its environmental conditions. The career of one Spanish agent, Diego de Alvear y Ponce de Leon (1749-1830), illustrates the prolonged process of boundary demarcation and the extensive observations and measurements it produced. Although colonial agents and Jesuit priests traveled through Amazonia and the upper Paraná beginning in the sixteenth century, the indigenous populations and natural resources of these regions remained largely understudied. Simply put: what lay hidden within the imposing environment? Surveying efforts began in 1751 and stretched as late as 1801 in remote regions. The scope of the project strained imperial resources, but it also produced unprecedented European observations of some of the most remote environments in Ibero-America. Alvear’s eighteen-year survey of the Paraná and Paraguay river basins included cartographic surveys, natural historical writings, and proto-ethnographic reports. Drawing on Alvear’s diary from the survey and his published account of the region, this paper will examine Spanish conceptions of the Paraná as an extreme environment through the lens of environmental, political, and social history.
The (Banana) Landscape and Archaeology in Central America, 1890-1940
15:00 - 15:30
This paper explores how different interpretations of the landscape and environment around two archaeological sites of 20th-century Central America (Quiriguá in Guatemala and Copán in Honduras) made these sites contested spaces. It follows thematic trends across the records of several North American archaeological expeditions between the 1890s and 1940s, chiefly the Harvard Peabody Museum expedition to Copán in Honduras in 1892-3 and the expedition to Quiriguá in Guatemala, led by William Duncan Strong for the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1936. Field sites were not self-contained scientific spaces, but embedded in a rural landscape with all its social, agricultural and commercial relationships. Local, regional and transnational actors all had a stake in controlling the natural and built environment, and foreign and local scholars, farmers, and labourers interacted in different ways with these environments. In fact, by paying attention to the micro-geographies of the archaeological field site, we can uncover facets of daily life and labour relations in the rural landscapes which were fundamental to Guatemalan and Honduran history in this era. Archaeologists and local farmers argued about agricultural practices within the supposed boundaries of the archaeological sites. In the case of Quiriguá in particular, which was located in the midst of a United Fruit banana plantation, the terrain’s primary function as an agricultural landscape (the archetype of ‘tropical agriculture’ for North Americans) permeated all aspects of the archaeologists’ practice, from finding suitable labourers to fashioning themselves ‘tropical explorers’.

Speakers
Penn State - University Park Campus
University College London
College of William and Mary
De Montfort University, UK
Moderators
University of Texas at Austin

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