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Measuring the New World: Enlightenment Science and South America by Neil Safier

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Measuring the New World: Enlightenment Science and South America

Jonathan Carlyon. Oxford Academic.

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By Neil Safier. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, In particular, the book cleverly recovers many of the individuals who helped generate knowledge for the expedition, and how European naturalists especially the much celebrated Charles-Marie de La Condamine transformed and translated this knowledge into the language of the European Enlightenment.


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Measuring the New World intersects with several of the most dynamic historiographical fields in the last few years: Atlantic world history, the social and cultural history of science, critical studies of travel accounts, and an emerging new cultural and intellectual history of colonial Latin America. Chapter 2 provides a brilliant analysis of the ways La Condamine constructs a narrative through his publications and maps incorporating information from many sources while consciously erasing those same sources and making the knowledge appear to be his own empirical truth.


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  7. The debates among intellectuals over the nature of the New World form the core of Chapter 5, while Chapter 6 focuses on the transatlantic discussion over the nature of the Incas, in particular, through a close analysis of the work of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. Neil Safier. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, I have always wondered how travelers from the Enlightenment period organized and executed their voyages to South America and how they re presented their findings after their return to Europe.

    The official travel accounts, reports, and expensive portfolio books contained detailed and polished descriptions of land and life, and painstakingly accurate measurements of distances, coordinates, and river depths, but left out more explicit reference to the explorers themselves--what they did when they were not busy calculating angles or writing down their musings, and how they proceeded to publish their results.

    For me, it is difficult to imagine how French, Spanish, and British gentlemen in appropriate attire, the mandatory wigs on their heads, penetrated the humid Amazon lowlands or climbed the ragged Andes, accompanied by heavy and bulky wooden trunks that contained sophisticated instruments and indispensable literature. Measuring the New World offers a refreshing perspective on some of the hidden layers of knowledge production and truth-making in mid-eighteenth-century France and Spain.

    Seemann on Safier, 'Measuring the New World: Enlightenment Science and South America.'

    Reading between the lines of the smooth and impeccable surface of written texts and searching for the deeper meanings and impacts of material culture and its ephemeral by-products, Safier points out that Enlightenment science entailed not only the mapping of the world and the showcasing and cataloguing of knowledge, but also the imposition of European values and thoughts. Four chapters of the book deal with written accounts from different national and ethnic viewpoints that present aspects and ideas of South American cultures and landscapes.

    Safier does not forget the native voices, either, although some may complain about the relatively meager yield of indigenous testimonies.