- Mobilizing and Negotiating MeaningsStudies in the Dynamics of Colonial-Imperial Transformations in Art, Science, Law, Historiography, and Identities in the Ibero-American World, 1500–1800
If the philosophical inquiry of Edmundo O'Gorman into the constructedness of America as a "new world" had the virtue of reorienting colonial studies away from an empirical or narrative approach that assumed the subject position of European explorers, colonizers, and imperial historians, the discovery of Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala's Primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno (1615) by the Danish scholar Richard Pietschmann in 1908 had the effect of reintroducing Amerindian actors into an historical scene occupied mainly by European men cast as protagonists of conquest and its political and cultural aftermath.1 Critiques of O'Gorman's process of invention contributed in multiple ways to the polemics that in 1992 marked the controversial memory of 1492, much as the trend to deconstruct, reexamine, and contest historiographical assumptions and methods, fueled in part by the postmodern critique at large, informs the books under review here. However, these books seek to revise and, in some cases, challenge established narratives of empire in accord with disparate concerns that respond, each in its own way, to the parameters of the author's field (art history, ethnohistory, literary history, Spanish history).
Though revisionary, these interventions do not have in mind similar or related outcomes. For instance, the stated aim of the three studies on cosmographers, botanists, and cartographers in the Spanish and Portuguese empires between 1500 and 1800 is to revise the understanding that Iberians did not engage in scientific work during that period. Almost unrelated and beyond the Spanish science polemic, Neil Safier engages various discursive operations in the production of the New World and its relation to the development of Enlightenment science. Safier's erudite study of Charles Marie de La Condamine's scientific expedition to measure the world from 1735 to 1745 problematizes the heroic image of the explorer "out there," as Michel de Certeau conceives of the space of exploration. In paying intense attention to the reception and circulation of knowledge, goods, and specimens, both in Europe and in South America, Safier paints [End Page 214] a complex and illuminating picture of the making and mobilization of meanings, understandings, and misunderstandings during the second half of the eighteenth century.
As does Safier, Brian P. Owensby engages the question of cultural transformations in his superb study of Spanish law and its encounter with Indian justice in late-colonial Mexico, as ideas, institutions, and actors traveled the asymmetrical settings of empire. The involvement and agency of Amerindian subjects in the power dynamics of empire appear at center stage, both in Owensby's Empire...