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  • Jesuit Maps and Political Discourse: The Amazon River of Father Samuel Fritz
  • Camila Loureiro Dias (bio)

Long associated with the context of territorial disputes on the definition of the Amazon frontiers of the Iberian empires in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the map of the Amazon River designed by Jesuit Samuel Fritz is as famous as it is misunderstood. The map is, in fact, quite poorly understood, in both the field of cartographic history, where it would certainly occupy a place of importance, and the nascent field of Amazon social history, where it often serves as a supporting illustration. In fact, even the context in which this map was produced raises disputes that require further study, distinct from those undertaken by nationalist historiographies of the countries that share borders in Amazonia.1 For example, few studies have been carried out regarding the means of territorial occupation and their inherent conflicts during the first centuries of European colonization of this region. It is precisely for such analysis that the map of Samuel Fritz stands as an important document for historians: more than simply rendering the course of the Amazon River it transmits a political discourse, as does any map, intrinsic to the context in which it was produced.

This study was undertaken to explore the uses of Fritz’s map as a source of the sociopolitical history of the territory it depicts. Treating the map as a text, my objective here is to identify some elements of Samuel Fritz’s political discourse as they relate to the conflicts in which he was involved.2 In adopting the map as [End Page 95] a document, it becomes imperative to follow the recent historiographical renewal in the field of cartographic studies, especially as it pertains to the issue of defining the best way to read and interpret a cartographic source. Within this movement, the methodologies employed in the analysis of Fritz’s mapmaking reveal a range of relations between that process and the various aspects of the occupation of this territory. These include social mechanisms, the inclusion of the territory in imperial geopolitics, local missionary practices, and even the institutional policies of the Society of Jesus.

Maps have been perceived as complex cultural artifacts,3 following an interpretive logic that analyzes the relationship between the material object and what it signifies, with the intent of reconstituting its processes of commodification. Although they propose this analysis both in terms of the production and the circulation of the maps, adherents of this historiographic trend opt to emphasize the latter, that is, circulation. From this perspective, Samuel Fritz’s map has been examined by the Portuguese historian André de Almeida, who studied the manner in which the map circulated and was received by the larger public in Europe in the eighteenth century.4

Almeida’s analysis is very suggestive in reviewing the production of the map, bringing out interesting hypotheses about the conditions and time of work of the missionary cartographer—information that is hard to recover. Yet, by limiting his analysis of Fritz’s discourse to the moment in which his map became known to the European public, what Almeida presents as one representation is, in fact two; that is, two different printings of the same matrix, published under different circumstances and for different audiences.

In this study, we compare the two versions. The first is the image as it was engraved in Quito in 1707, while Samuel Fritz worked there as the superior of missions. With the title El gran río Marañón, o Amazonas con la misión de la Compañía de Jesús, the engraving was supported by the colonial authorities of that province and was dedicated to Philip V. The second version was published [End Page 96] in Paris with some modifications under the title Cours du fleuve Maragnon autrement dit des Amazones par le P. Samuel Fritz missionaire de la Compagnie de Jésus precisely 10 years later (1717), in the 34-volume Lettres édifiantes et curieuses, described below, which brought the missionary work of the Society of Jesus to the general public. Comparing the versions highlights the structuring elements of Fritz’s political discourse in...


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pp. 95-116
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