Charting an Environmental Frontier: The Hydrographic Expeditions of Colonial Spanish America to the Western Patagonian Channels (1760s-1790s)

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Abstract Summary
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.
Abstract ID :
HSS57
Submission Type
Organized Session
Abstract Topic
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Chronological Classification :
18th century
Self-Designated Keywords :
Patagonia, colonial, exploration, scientific practice, maritime, environment, geography, local knowledge