Writing the Andes, reading the Amazon: Voyages of exploration and the itineraries of scientific knowledge in the eighteenth century

TitleWriting the Andes, reading the Amazon: Voyages of exploration and the itineraries of scientific knowledge in the eighteenth century
Publication TypeMiscellaneous
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsSafier, NF
KeywordsAmazon, Andes, Ecuador, Eighteenth Century, European history, Exploration, France, Latin American history, Science history, Scientific knowledge, SOCIAL SCIENCES

  This dissertation examines five interrelated episodes in the European exploration, representation, and intellectual appropriation of South America in the eighteenth century. The focus is the Franco-Hispanic Expedition to Quito (1735-1744), a mission sponsored by the French Academy of Sciences and underwritten by the Bourbon kings of France and Spain to resolve the vexing question of the true shape of the Earth. Each of the five chapters, focusing on a particular text, map, or physical edifice that resulted from the expedition, highlights and analyzes a specific editorial activity in the process of recording and commemorating transatlantic scientific exploration. Using monumental architecture, engravings, maps, treatises, and histories, the participants made conscious and elaborate attempts to lay claim to the results of their endeavors, often at the expense of other individuals–including South American Creoles, indigenous groups, and Jesuits–who had sought to delimit their own proprietary rights in this process. In Europe, compilers, editors, and publishers reconfigured this newly-culled knowledge from the New World as part of a broad editorial movement to collect, codify, and abridge information brought in from overseas. Within this burgeoning public sphere where natural philosophy fused with print culture, conflicts and controversies erupted over who had the right to profit from the experimental results of scientific activities conducted in non-European territory. In polite conversation and in print, in graphic and textual form, these conflicts presented South America as a theater of scientific controversy, with "philosophical travelers" acting as protagonists, European presses as typographical floodlights, and the reading public as an eager audience to the ars dramatis of erudite dispute. Ultimately, mountains and rivers along the equatorial line–from the Andes to the Amazon–became tablets and platforms for the triumphal presentation of European scientific dominion, malleable surfaces upon which science and publicity merged together into a hybrid script.