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  • Geopolitics, Culture, and the Scientific Imaginary in Latin America ed. by Maria del Pilar Blanco and Joanna Page
  • Gregory Knapp
Maria del Pilar Blanco and Joanna Page (Eds.)
Geopolitics, Culture, and the Scientific Imaginary in Latin America.
Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2020. 339 pp., maps, diagrams., photos, notes, bibliographies, list of contributors, and index. $95.00 hardcover (ISBN 978-1-6834-0148-3).

This edited, collaborative volume draws attention to the role of Latin Americans in contributing to scientific knowledge and methods worldwide. It also deals with the role of science in shaping Latin American discourse and perceptions. With fifteen contributing authors from North America, Latin America, and Europe, the volume grew out of series of conferences. While this volume addresses a variety of scientific approaches in the sciences and social sciences, the authors all take humanistic approaches in the discussions. The humanities, including language, literature, and history, have increasingly provided valuable insights on the relationships between science, society, and creative work. This book adds significantly to our appreciation of these connections in the Latin American context, including multiple countries and time periods.

The first section of the volume deals with Latin America’s “scientific landscapes,” including studies of dinosaur narratives in Patagonia and science writing in Mexico from 1868 to 1876. For example, as discussed in Gabriela Nouzeilles’ essay in this book, Argentina’s Ameghino argued that modern mammals originated in South America and spread northward from there, inverting conventional discourses which saw mammals as spreading to South America from the north. The Museum of Natural Sciences of La Plata made a point of emphasizing the scale of the local megafauna and was inter-nationally recognized for its grandeur. This approach to the paleontological past has continued to the present in Argentina, with the physical size of specimens providing the opportunity to embody national pride and postcolonial resentment.

The second section considers Latin America as a site of knowledge production. Local medical writings from both the sixteenth century and twentieth century exhibit respect for indigenous science and health treatment methods. Colonial miners in the Andes used rich networks of experience and participation to forge understandings of minerals and their distribution.

The third section deals with science and modern nations, including early republican innovations in the social sciences, the role of science in political emancipation, and aspects of the popular technological imagination. Lina del Castillo’s essay on social science in post-colonial Spanish America highlights how local intellectuals such as José María Samper saw themselves as being in the vanguard of promoting modernization in society and science and providing exemplary models for intellectuals in Europe to follow. Their contributions have been obscured by more recent postcolonial approaches that have failed to appreciate the radical and constructive nature of early republican scientists and social scientists. For example, the Colombian land surveyor Lorenzo María Lleras promoted techniques [End Page 211] that took into account Indigenous histories and land claims, as well as microclimate and family structure to provide surveys and titles suitable for empowering indigenous actors as members of a liberal republic. This was in striking contrast to survey methodologies in the United States that were developed in tandem with dispossessing Indigenous people as a prerequisite for ethnic replacement.

Del Castillo argues that Samper can be credited with inventing comparative sociology before Durkheim, through contrasting social change in Europe and the United States and what he called Hispano-Colombia. He argued that Hispanic America (outside Brazil) was far more progressive than other regions in overturning the old regime, abolishing slavery, promoting racial equality, promoting free trade, and extending suffrage. Samper anticipated Franz Boas in arguing against racial determinism and for the influence of social institutions; indeed, Samper argued against the concept of race itself as lacking objective reality. Samper also placed himself in opposition to imperialism as exemplified by the US-Mexican war, which he saw as the expansion of a pro-slavery state imposing a violent absorption of other societies. Del Castillo ends her essay by arguing that the radical contributions of post-independence scholars such as Samper have been obscured not only by modern US-based hegemonic and contemptuous, stereotyping and “orientalizing” social...