6689 - Inventing and reinventing nature at the Edge of the Empire

Late colonial missionary geo-narratives were testimonies about natural phenomena. During the eighteenth century, for secular and religious natural historians, space and place were held to be scientifically and politically important. As David Harvey (1995: 161) put it, “the ´imperialist gaze´ was not homogeneous”; in that sense these eighteenth-century accounts are perfect examples of how the imperial vision was enacted in many voices that demonstrated the complexities of writing about nature.

The 200 years of human displacement that originated with missionary projects had catastrophic demographic, cultural, and social consequences for indigenous cultures. Colonial accounts illustrate the practices of deterritorialization that resulted in the systematic destruction of indigenous societies. Hence rivers, which represented a key to survival, transportation; and for Spain, a means of military and religious penetration, became the literal reference and central metaphor in numerous missionary accounts representing their mobility, and the “New World” with its flows, accidents, and magnificence. For the missionaries, the complex river ecosystems epitomized risks, possibilities, and the sublime quality of the tropics.

The body of thought on the Orinoco underpinned and contested hegemonic social relations: as much as they supported colonial power, they also destabilized it. How did these networks of knowledge producers attempt to reconcile Catholic dogma and imperial politics? What are the themes, rhetorical and visual strategies used to discursively construct Orinoquia? Were these strategies in conflict with one another and with Spanish political and religious objectives? How do these eclectic narratives justify the transformation of nature for the benefit of the religious orders and the empire? At the peripheries, and far from the seat of Spanish government and their General Curia, how did these geo-narratives influence Enlightenment culture? This presentation will address these questions with a reading of the late colonial geo-narrative of Filippo Salvatore Gilij (1721-1789).

Keywords: Enlightenment, Geonarratives, Missionaries and Natural Science, Orinoco

Author: Santa, Arias (University of Kansas, Ud States of Am / USA)


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