A Selenography in New Spain: Colonial Strategies for Mapping Local Knowledge

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Abstract Summary
In 1770, a Mexican criollo naturalist and antiquary, Jose Antonio Alzate, published the first selenography in the Americas: this map of the moon was a small engraving inserted at the end of a pamphlet entitled Eclypse de Luna, dedicated to Charles III of Spain. The print was a copy of a widely circulated lunar image popularised in the annual ephemerides La Connoissance du Temps (promoted by the French Académie des Science) and it was intended to illustrate an astronomical observation that would correct the position of the Mexican Meridian in a world map. This work was sent to Paris alongside natural and geological specimens, maps of Mexico and other written reports. In this way, astronomical observations were meant to locate or relocate material evidence for the description of an unknown territory, as well as promote local science. In this paper I argue that Alzate’s mapping practices (based on the connection between practices for determining longitude and the description of the Mexican territory through the making of natural collections) do not just bring to the discussion another case of colonial appropriation of visual and material strategies for establishing local authority in international contexts: this instance also brings attention to the relationship between naturalism and astronomy in late eighteenth-century debates about temperament and race.
Abstract ID :
Submission Type
Organized Session
Abstract Topic
Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Science
Chronological Classification :
18th century
Self-Designated Keywords :
lunar map, Mexico, colonialism

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