Global aspirations and local traditions: discourses of science, technology and progress in Central America, 1790-1840
Sophie Brockmann (Institute of Latin American Studies, London)
Central American intellectual life, both in the last decades of Spanish colonialism (c. 1790-1821) and the independent period from 1821, was marked by the rhetoric of elites who sought to bring ‘progress’ and ‘Enlightenment’ to the region through projects of improvement that would incorporate the latest scientific knowledge. Their repeatedly stated desire to connect Central America to the wider world was expressed through international natural-historical correspondence networks and projects to improve infrastructure, but also took on particular significance after independence from Spain, when foreign engineers and investors started arriving in the region. This conscious movement towards ‘the global’ was of course nevertheless complemented and contrasted with traditional frameworks of Spanish colonial administration and local social and geographical contingencies.
This paper brings together case studies that illustrate the tensions and interplay between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ over several decades, broadly framed by the ideas of the ‘Central American Enlightenment’. The paper also questions how these categories might be applied to a variety of actors, from Central American elites and indigenous guides to British engineers. It will focus in particular on infrastructure improvement projects, from road construction to harbour surveying, which were one of the priorities of governments in this era and can be placed at the intersection of European technologies, competing conceptions of geography and mapping, and traditional narratives about the landscape and its uses
Open to all. No registration required
Part of the Global Science Research Group seminar series