As Surekha Davies writes in her introduction, Renaissance Ethnography and the Invention of the Human “demonstrates how maps illustrated human variation across the globe in new ways in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries” (1). Through exhaustive and careful comparative analysis of the descriptions of Amerindians both on European maps and in other literatures of ethnographic representation—travel literature, encyclopedias, natural histories and more—Davies shows “how maps made arguments about the relationship of human societies, bodies and cultures to their environments” (2) and so constituted a major source of Renaissance ethnographic thinking and practice. Defining ethnography broadly to include “all manner of descriptive writing and of the making of images and artefacts intended to represent peoples” (4 n. 9), her study is likewise admirably wide-ranging, including “six regional European mapping traditions; seven New World regions; visual, print and manuscript culture c.1450–1650; and classical, medieval and Renaissance cultural and intellectual traditions” (17) and an archive of some two thousand works of cartography. As Davies shows, sixteenth-century maps were essentially comparative, allowing for the ready iconographic comparison of different human civilizations, “as mapmakers strove to place peoples within the landmasses they inhabited” (300) and often to represent different peoples through a single, stereotypical iconographic motif. The maps were also especially synthetic of multiple eyewitness and secondhand viewpoints, forging what she calls an “artefactual epistemology that bestowed authority on workshops rather than on eyewitnesses” (11). Chapter 1 introduces the prominent discourses of ethnogeography circa 1500, including ancient humoral theory, with its linking of “the nature of individual bodies to their environment” (26), climaticism, with its association between human behavior and climatic or latitudinal zones; ideas of monsters derived from Pliny the Elder, Augustine, Albertus Magnus, and others; and ideas of savagery and civility derived from Aristotle and Tacitus. These frameworks jostled and vied for space dynamically in a period of paradigm instability. Chapter 2 treats the various regions of European mapmaking, differentiating state-sponsored mapmaking in Spain and Portugal, and commercial mapping in the Low Countries, Germany, Britain, and beyond. Artisans’ workshops for both manuscript and printed maps, Davies writes, “were settings in which epistemological authority was constructed by virtue of a synthesis of multiple kinds of expertise and experience,” including those of travelers, mathematicians, humanists, and illuminators (63), and “cartographic methods emerged out of, and in dialogue with, scholarly and artisanal relationships, imperial and commercial goals, and common philosophical concerns” (64). Chapters 3 and 4 highlight how different regions came to be associated with a single motif on maps, and the contemporary real-world results of these strategies of Amerindian representation. Chapter 3 focuses on the association of cannibalism with Brazil. Man-eating “Caribs”—marked by Spanish royal edicts as cannibals resisting evangelization, a categorization later projected by the Portuguese onto the Tupinamba of Brazil—come to stand in as the “emblematic scene for Brazil” (86) and the entire Spanish American interior through diffusion via mapping centers. Such “cannibalization,” moreover, had results: Queen Isabella of Castile decreed that “indios caribes” should be enslaved if they resisted conversion, and cannibalism grew to be seen as a legitimate cause of “just war” and “enslavement” in Portuguese Brazil (97). However, Davies shows that an alternative tradition of Brazilian representation existed concurrently in French and, specifically, Norman cartography. Normandy was a center of long-distance trade in the first half of the sixteenth century, and early French exploration into Brazil had convinced the French that trade, not colonization, was the most productive enterprise. Here, favorable depictions of the Tupinamba on gifted maps eventually led Henry II to formally acquiesce to French trading voyages into Portuguese Brazil. By contrast, again, to negative stereotypes of Brazil, mapmakers of Mexico and Peru, as chapter 7 shows, opted to downplay chroniclers’ reports of ritual sacrifice and to instead center the sophistication and technological advancement of Tenochtitlán and Cusco, thus associating their natives with a language of civility drawn from Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics. The language of civility had, notably, been available to medieval ethnographic representation long before Aristotle’s translations (see W. R. Jones, “The Image of the Barbarian in Medieval Europe,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 13, no. 4 : 376–407; Robert Bartlett, Gerald of Wales, 1146–1223 ; Shirin Khanmohamadi, In Light of Another’s Word: European Ethnography in the Middle Ages ). The oldness of New World representation is again evident in chapter 5, when Davies writes that “the Patagonian giant was the pivot around which sixteenth-century debates about the ontology of the human turned” (181): while encounters with new peoples increased the pressure on the categorical problem of what constituted the “human,” medieval thinkers had long posed the boundary of the human and the limits that boundary posed for Christian universalism through the figure of the monster—an Augustinian debate, as Davies notes. Throughout the book, Davies usefully shows Renaissance ethnography to be a work in progress. In chapter 6, on Walter Ralegh’s reports of Amazons and headless men in Guiana, she shows how Ralegh’s work to build the testimony and credibility of the headless men of Guiana through witnesses—later synthesized into an “artefactual authority” in Hondius’s map that decenters these eyewitnesses (200)—ultimately fails the period’s credibility test. As Davies asserts, “early modern ethnographic credibility … was a moving target” (216). Davies concludes by noting how, by the seventeenth century, maps fell out of favor for ethnographic representation, unsuited to the profusion of ever-new data, and became superseded by the illustrated book. The long sixteenth century’s preferred genre for the representation of worldly diversity came to an end. This exacting study of both European literary and cartographic representations of the New World in the long sixteenth century—two studies in one, really—makes a major scholarly contribu-tion to the fields of early modern cartography and visual culture, the history of ethnography, and New World travel writing. Its wide-ranging and current scholarly bibliography and extensive notes make it especially suited to graduate study and specialists, but any who are interested in the ever-expanding field of early travel and its representation will learn much from its pages. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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