Sunday, May 17, 2020

Jeffrey Alan Erbig Jr.'s "Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met"

Jeffrey Erbig Jr. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Erbig applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met: Border Making in Eighteenth-Century South America, and reported the following:
There are few words on page 99 of Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met, as a 1758 map by Italian cosmographer Miguel Antonio Ciera covers approximately eighty percent of the page. The map depicts the Río de la Plata estuary (near Buenos Aires, Argentina) and adjacent lands, and the only text is a brief caption in which I explain a significant contradiction in Ciera’s and others’ works. Ciera includes two ethnic labels on this map – Charrúas and Pampas – yet in textual accounts, he and his colleagues deny that such people actually lived in those lands. This page is part of a sixteen-page section in which I analyze the use of ethnic labels in regional maps alongside the writings of the mapmakers who drew them.

The page 99 test would give browsers an accurate, yet incomplete idea of what this book is about. That the page would include a historic map is unsurprising, as the book includes twenty-two in total, alongside another thirteen that I made using geographic information systems (GIS). Moreover, a critical reading of ethnographic content in colonial cartography is a centerpiece of this work. Yet, if a reader were to only consult this page, they would miss the book’s most important aspect: its focus on the spatial practices of Indigenous Americans. Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met is not simply a book about colonial representations of Native peoples, but one about the on-the-ground socio-spatial relations.

Ciera was one of dozens of mapmakers commissioned by the Portuguese crown in the first of two collaborative efforts with Spain to partition South America during the late eighteenth century. These boundary commissions were the largest ever sent to the Americas, and they collectively traveled the entire length of the border and cosigned maps that remain the earliest legal precedents to present-day international boundaries. These were the same commissions that formed the backdrop to the 1986 film The Mission, yet historical records reveal that rather than bit players in colonial conflicts, Indigenous peoples engaged mapmakers with their own visions and aims. Much has been written, albeit little in English, about the handful of officials who led the boundary commissions, yet few studies address the thousands of local laborers who made them possible and hardly any consider the border’s meaning to Indigenous peoples whose lands it bisected. That final consideration is the crux of the book.
Visit Jeffrey Erbig Jr.'s website.

--Marshal Zeringue