Seminar für Neuere Geschichte
Office: Hegelbau, Room 203
Curriculum Vitae Publications Courses
“Der Jesuitenorden als Träger von Wissen: Die jesuitische Konstruktion des Amazonas-Raums im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert” (“The Jesuit Order as a Conveyor of Knowledge: The Jesuit Construction of the Amazon in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries”)
This doctoral project examines the Jesuits’ production of maps of the upper Amazon in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The focus is on the maps and accompanying natural history reports compiled by Jesuits working in the so-called Maynas Mission (1638–1768). The maps—some hand-drawn, others printed—were produced both within the mission itself and, after the Jesuits were expelled from Spanish America, in Europe.
Assuming that the specific interests and intentions of the cartographers, together with their religious and political worldviews, heavily influenced their representations of these geographical spaces, the question can be posed as to what influence the missionary context had on the production of cartographic knowledge about the Amazon. These included, on the one hand, the conditions under which the information could be collected and the maps produced—for example the intensive contact of the missionaries with the indigenous population and the role of local informants—and, on the other hand, the specific demands of the missionary activities themselves—for example the necessity of extensive travel throughout the region and of orienting oneself in unfamiliar places within daily missionary life. The cartographic knowledge they amassed, however, was not only used to provide practical orientation within the mission, but also to defend their claims to the areas around their missions, especially against the Portuguese attempts to control the mouth of the Río Negro in particular. The maps they produced thus served as a type of propaganda essential in the construction of political and religious spaces. The representatives of the indigenous population were an important element. Ethnographic information about the “heathen” settlements was not only useful in characterizing the local tribes that the missionaries hoped to resettle in mission settlements in the near future. Rather, these maps – with the vast ethnographic data they contained on these groups identified at times as “barbarians” – attested to the necessity of further missionary efforts. Another central purpose of the maps was to establish the implied “scientific” reliability of the empirical observations of missionaries. Jesuit publications—aware of the interest of European scholars—thus constantly referred to the scientific significance of the Society of Jesus and countered prevalent anti-Jesuit sentiments by presenting their significant cartographic contributions as a justification for their order.
So far, scholars have primarily discussed these maps within the framework of national history and the expansion of colonial territories or examined their role within the historiography of the Jesuit order as statements of scientific “achievements”. This project, however, suggests a new approach to these sources that situates the maps within the context of political, religious, and scientific discourses as well as discussions within the order. In turn, these discourses also presumably influenced the representation of the Amazon region, as did the various sources of information which the Jesuits used as the basis of their geographical knowledge (including indigenous informants, their own empirical observations, traditional cartographic knowledge, travel reports, etc.).
Project within the DFG-Priority Programme 2130 "Cultures of Translation in Early Modern Times": "Cartography as Translation: Map Productions by Eighteenth-Century French 'Armchair Geographers'"
The influential French geographers Guillaume Delisle (1675-1726), Philippe Buache (1700-1773) and Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville (1697-1782) referred to themselves as géographes de cabinet. What they had in common was their method of composing maps on the basis of extensive collections of written sources instead of visiting the countries in question and surveying them in person. The work of these geographers consisted, first of all, in collecting information and documents of various kinds, including maps and travelogues, historiographic works, letters, and oral testimonies of travellers who they were in personal contact with. The next step was to critically evaluate the collected sources by comparing them, using them as correctives against each other, and ultimately conflating them. This approach involved processes of translation on many levels. Firstly, foreign-language texts, names and expressions, for instance Latin or Spanish ones, had to be translated into French. Secondly, data from different historical periods had to be conciliated, and older accounts had to be translated in accordance with more recent knowledge. Thirdly, intersemiotic translations were necessary, since the evaluated geographic material originated in different media, and had to be translated into a mutual “cartographic language”. Fourthly, it was necessary to adapt knowledge which originated in specific local contexts, for example missionary contexts, for the interests and requirements of French geographers and/or their employers. The translation of indigenous knowledge, especially, often proved a challenge for geographers.
This project will explore processes of translation in eighteenth-century French map production. For this purpose, a broad range of archival material in Paris, including the collections of sources, correspondence, and mémoires of the above-mentioned “armchair geographers” will be analysed. The main aim is to utilise the focus on processes of translation to illustrate the complexity of the cultural techniques employed in map production, since this complexity is often relegated to a background position due to the usual one-sided focus on mathematical and technical factors. In this sense, cartography is not to be understood as a field which was separate from other forms of knowledge production, but as an integral component of early modern cultures of translation.