transoceanica

Spaces, Perceptions and Imaginaries between the Atlantic and
Pacific Worlds, 15h-20th Centuries
(ECOS No. C19H03)

Pocket-Map Of The Isthmus Of Panama. Am. Photo-Litho. Co. N.Y. Copyright By Copp & Yung, 1886. Col. David Rumsay Map Collection.

Principal researchers: Pedro Iacobelli (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) and Alejandro E. Gómez (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle) .

Team members:

Chile : Rafael Gaune (PUCC), Jaime Valenzuela (PUCC), Patricia Palma (PUCC), Eduardo Gutierrez (PUCC).

France : Edward Blumenthal (Sorbonne Nouvelle), Clément Thibaud (EHESS), ), Emmanuelle Perez Tisserant (Université Toulouse 2 Jean Jaurès), Matías Sánchez Barberán (EHESS).

On August 10, 1519, the expedition headed by Fernão de Magalhãnes set sail and, after a long voyage, found the Patagonian passage that lead to Asia where the Portuguese navigator passed away. The expedition continued and completed the first circumnavigation of the globe in September, 1522. This long voyage that began 400 years ago broke with the existing geographical paradigms and facilitated European expansion towards American, Pacific and Asian spaces. Magellan’s wanderings are an invitation to question traditional geo-historical spaces, as well as their hegemonic role in the configuration of certain area studies. In this sense, the present project proposes to study —through a comparative, connected and entangled analysis, temporally located in early modern and contemporary history— the different ideas, interactions and sensibilities that arose in people who circulated or lived in the diverse cultural, imperial or national framework, in and through corridors between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.[1]

Since the late 19th century, the historical profession has underscored the importance of paying attention to what occurs beyond the borders of modern nations when studying the past. This idea has sharpened since the 1990s, when much of the international community of historians became conscious of the importance of transnational approaches. This turn was due not only to the analytical advantages of the correlation of diverse geo-historical contexts, through the study of the circulations, connections and entanglements that existed between different spaces, but also as a means of going beyond the teleological linearity of national historiographies, the excessive rigidity of occidental culturalist historiographies (particularly at an imperial level) and the immobilism of the comparative method.[2] The result was a shift of emphasis in the analytical focus (as has been shown in the case of Australia)[3] and that some see as a true “transnational turn” in the historiography.[4]

The large numbers of studies with transnational methodological approaches that have emerged since the end of the 20th century have brought about important epistemological developments, as the examples of borderland studies, connected histories, histoires croisées, entangled histories, shared histories and others show. The proliferation of methodological approaches has also led to the identification of supranational, supra-imperial or even supra-cultural geo-historical systems or regions in diverse parts of the world in different time periods. Another consequence has been the revision of existing interpretive paradigms, such as in the examples of Atlantic History, favoring the appearance of new paradigms such as Global History and the History of the Pacific world. With regards to “new” Atlantic history, these methodologies have made contributions to the understanding of the ties and interactions that existed between Africa, Europe and America particularly in the early modern period. This has been possible thanks to the application of transnational or trans-imperial scales as well as the renovation of the historiography of the Atlantic Revolutions, by looking at new themes and applying innovative analytical perspectives, such as the approaches “from below”.[5]

This could also be said about the Pacific World which has been increasingly studied in recent years. While less prolific than the Atlantic World in terms of the body of work and primary sources available for study,[6] the historiography of Pacific spaces has begun to leave behind its predominantly insular traditional historiographic vision, in order to explore the ties with the Indo-Asiatic space and the Hispanic American subcontinent. This opening has been considerably enriched with studies of themes such as environmental change, the exploitation of guano, the circulation of indentured Asian labor, inter-colonial relations between the Philippines and New Spain, Hispanic American immigration to California in the second half of the 19th century, the Indo-Atlantic slave trade and the formation of neocolonial extractive economies.

For the Togolese historian Epeli Hau’ofa, the Pacific refers to a world of people connected to each other “…making non sense of all national and economic boundaries, borders that have been defined only recently, crisscrossing an ocean that had been boundless for ages before  Captain Cook’s apotheosis.”[7] These powers, as in other parts of the world, left their metonymic influence in terms referring to the Pacific as a “Spanish lake”, a “Southern Japanese sea” or even as a space subject to the United States’ “open door” policy. Some historians even identify geo-historical patterns similar to those of the Atlantic World, such as R. Ueda who sees in the United States’ use of the Hawaiian archipelago in the 19th century a process similar to that of the Spanish and Portuguese three centuries earlier in the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands. In both cases (Hawaii and the Iberian Atlantic islands) the insular spaces seem to have been used as an expansionist platform which analogously contributed to the emergence of new geo-historical spaces.[8] However, unlike the “common destiny” of the Braudelian Mediterranean or the “shared history” of the Caribbean, the oceanic spaces that we will study do not constitute coherent geo-historical entities; on the contrary, they account for polysemous worlds which were the product of diverse historical dynamics that could be called —paraphrasing D. Armitage— as cis-oceanic.[9]

In the case of Hispanic America, this polysemy has been studied mostly in the ties of New Spain with the Philippines and Guam during the colonial period. The majority of the works on the subject are framed in the historiography of the “Spanish lake”[10] which, despite its unquestionable contributions in terms of understanding intra-imperial connections, continues with a culturalist perspective that limits our understanding of its ramifications, much as tends to happen in the different Atlantic worlds. A more attentive look at trans and intra-imperial interactions (above all with regards to Peru and New Spain), in addition to those with Asian populations, shows a series of particular dynamics which suggest, as E. Slack and J. Tueller claim, that even in the era of Spanish preponderance, that the Pacific Ocean “was neither a lake nor Spanish”.[11] Even more numerous are the works on contemporary Latin America, but despite constituting an abundant bibliography, the majority of these fail to locate the Pacific, from a geo-historical perspective and following the maritime model of F. Braudel, as the principal actor. The exception are studies carried out in the perspective of “cultural studies” that deepen the abundant literary production in pursuit of understanding the past relations (imaginary or real) between peoples;[12] or migratory studies that examine the waves of Chinese, Japanese and Polynesian migration to Latin America and the resulting transfer of knowledge.[13] In the literature strictly on the Pacific as an area of interconnections, the focus has been on the structures of economic interests in the “Pacific basin” and, for the same reason, entails a critical appreciation of United States hegemony.[14]

The hypothesis of this project points to the appearance of cartographies and spatial imaginaries that reflect particular social, economic and political realities which, with Spanish America at its center, present an alternative social reading to deeply rooted national, imperial and colonial histories. In this sense, the present project looks to combine the potential of the incipient Pacific World history with the vast production on the Atlantic World (or worlds, if we consider other similar paradigms such as the Atlântico Sul),[15] in order to recognize common fields of study susceptible to being analyzed from a perspective that is both transoceanic and global, and which includes Indian spaces by extension and for comparative purposes.

Accordingly, the main objective is to identify and define new polysemy or historical cis-oceanic dynamics, or deepen our knowledge over those that are already known. Regarding the specific objectives, they are as follows:

  1. Identify individual or collective actors coming from, or tied to, the Pacific and/or Atlantic worlds and evaluate their participation in the circulation of political ideas, religious doctrines, economic theories, scientific paradigms, racial thinkings and humanitarian sensibilities.
  2. Analyze the diverse forms of forced labor, and the human mobilities that they generated, in particular the traffic of African slaves and Asian “coolies”, that converged in Latin America. This also implies comparing the flows of forced labor as one more variant of the transoceanic commercial exchanges and their (post/neo) colonial grammars.
  3. Evaluate the regional geopolitics, armed conflicts, imperialist struggles and border (and borderlands) issues associated with both the Pacific and Atlantic worlds.

To carry out these specific objectives we will examine, as already indicated, diverse circulations, connections and entwinements. Among them, the networks, travels and knowledge transfers in the Jesuit Catholic sphere, particularly through the parallel lives of three Jesuits: Andrés de Rada, provincial and apostolic inspector (visitador) of the Society of Jesus, who travelled the continent from Mexico to Chile leaving behind a rich bibliographical production; Miguel de Viñas, Jesuit procurador (informing Rome of the institutional and religious developments of his congregation and, in the same way, returning with new peoples, money and even indulgences and graces conceded by the Pope) who carried out a long voyage connecting various American localities with Europe; and, finally, Joseph Zeitler, a German apothecary living in Santiago de Chile after 1748 who was among the Jesuits expelled in 1767.

We will also look at the human circulation associated with migratory movements that responded to the need for labor in the new extractive economies or large infrastructure projects, as well as the old and new forms of forced or semi-servile labor that were introduced or developed towards the end of slavery and in the post-slavery era. In more specific terms, we will study the role played by Chile (particularly in the port of Valparaiso) in transnational commercial networks that allowed these new forms of labor exploitation to be introduced into South America, along with large quantities of Asian, African and Afro-Caribbean workers. In a similar vein, we will study the different advocacies that emerged against modern slavery and the new forms of labor exploitation (whether indentured foreigners or indigenous workers), by members of Catholic religious orders or liberal creoles. Above all, we will focus our attention on the criticisms against the new networks of human trafficking, and the development of semi-servile forms of labor, focusing on the case of the enganche system in Peru. All this studied in the light of the activities, religious doctrines and anti-slavery, pro-indigenist and humanitarian political ideas that emerged in the Atlantic World during the modern and contemporary periods. These will lead us to analyze the peruvian voices that opposed the reactivation of the slave trade, that fought for the end of slavery or that criticized the new forms of semi-servitude, often associated with the Pro-Indigenous Association founded in 1909.

Another relevant line of enquiry will be the analysis of the different questions associated with transpacific contacts and circulation that passed through California, seen as a Mexican outpost in the 19th century. This will lead us to take stock of the human circulation and of the circulation of commercial goods, political ideas and news between Hawaii, Peru, Russia, Oregon, different Asian regions and, above all, Chile. Particularly important are the migratory flows of citizens of this country to California during the Gold Rush period, the place that they held in the local Spanish-speaking community and the triangular circulation between California, Hawaii and Valparaiso.

Finally, we will also analyze the legal status of political exiles in different parts of America and Europe, and the forms of sociability that shaped the so-called Republican Societies in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Intimately connected to local commercial routes along the Pacific coast, political exile was a major factor in the circulation of political ideas and the political systems that developed in republican South America. The interaction between European powers and South American traditions of diplomatic asylum proved a major catalyst in the codification of asylum law in the 19th century.

In order to achieve the aforementioned objectives, we will use different theoretical postulates, such as the notions of “mental spaces” and the “temporal-spatial rhythms of nature” of H. Lefebvre, the “paces of experience” and “horizons of expectations” of R. Koselleck and the “perspective schemes” and the “self-identifications” of G. Brubaker.[16] These postulates will be used to analyze the different logics that generated geo-historical regimes and the perceptions that, “from below” as well as “from above”, emerged or evolved between the first wave of globalization in the Early Modern period and the Cold War. This methodological approach should permit us to explain the factors (processes, circulations, circuits, connections, explorations and resistance, among others) that generated different dynamics that in turn forged or molded the mental maps and spatial imaginaries which encompass our object of study. These dynamics will animate many of the sessions of the seminars and conferences that will be organized in the framework of the present project.


[1] Among the historians who have emphasized the importance of transoceanic approaches, see: Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra y Erik R. Seeman (eds.), The Atlantic in Global History: 1500-2000 (Routledge, 2017); Cécile Vidal, «Pour une histoire globale du monde atlantique ou des histoires connectées dans et au-delà du monde atlantique ?», Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 67, no 2 (24 may 2012): 391-413; Dominique Barbe and Renaud Meltz, «Le monde Pacifique dans la mondialisation», Hermès, La Revue, n.o 65 (2 de noviembre de 2013): 13-20; Jerry H. Bentley, «Sea and Ocean Basins as Frameworks of Historical Analysis», Geographical Review 89, n.o 2 (April 1999): 215-24; Gregory T. Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Alison Games, «Beyond the Atlantic: English Globetrotters and Transoceanic Connections», The William and Mary Quarterly 63, no 4 (2006): 675-92; Kären Wigen, «Introduction: Oceans of History», The American Historical Review 111, no 3 (June 2006): 717-21.

[2] Micol Seigel, « Beyond Compare: Comparative Method after the Transnational Turn », Radical History Review 2005, no 91 (1 janvier 2005): 62-90.

[3] Desley Deacon, Penny Russell, and Angela Woollacott (eds.), Transnational Ties: Australian Lives in the World (Canberra: ANUE Press, 2008): xiv.

[4] The expression “transnational turn” has been used most importantly in United States diplomatic history. Akira Iriye, « The Transnational Turn », Diplomatic History 31, no 3 (1 juin 2007): 373-76; Ian Tyrrell, « Reflections on the Transnational Turn in United States History: Theory and Practice », Journal of Global History 4, no 3 (2009): 453-74.

[5] See for example: The Pacific World: Lands, Peoples and History of the Pacific, 1500-1900, 17 vol. (Ashgate, 2002); Pedro Iacobelli, Postwar Emigration to South America from Japan and the Ryukyu Islands (New York; London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017); Fernando Purcell, ¡Muchos extranjeros para mi gusto!: Mexicanos, chilenos e irlandeses en la construcción de California, 1848-1880 (Santiago: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2017).

[6] Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, xiv.

[7] Epeli Hau’ofa, « Our Sea of Islands », in Eric Waddell, Vijay Naidu, and Epeli Hau‘ofa (eds.), A New Oceania: Rediscovering Our Sea of Islands (Suva: University of the South Pacific, 1993).

[8] Reed Ueda, « Pushing the Atlantic Envolope: Interoceanic Perspectives on Atlantic History », in The Atlantic in Global History: 1500-2000, edited by Jorge Canizares-Esguerra et Erik R. Seeman (New York: Routledge, 2017).

[9] David Armitage, « Three Concepts of Atlantic History », in The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800, David Armitage and Michael J. Braddick (eds.) (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009): 13-29.

[10] See for example: Oskar Hermann Khristian Spate, The Spanish Lake (Camberra: ANU E Press, 2004); Eva Maria Mehl, Forced Migration in the Spanish Pacific World: From Mexico to the Philippines, 1765–1811 (Cambridge University Press, 2016); Michel Bertrand, « El viaje al Pacífico: los fundamentos geo-históricos del «lago español», Historia Moderna, no 28 (2015): 35-44; Mariano Ardash Bonialian, El Pacífico hispanoamericano: política y comercio asiático en el imperio español, 1680-1784: la centralidad de lo marginal (México: Colegio de México, 2012); Carmen Yuste López, Nueva España, puerta americana al Pacífico asiático, siglos XVI-XVIII (México: UNAM, 2019).

[11]Rainer F. Buschmann, Edward R. Slack, and James B. Tueller, Navigating the Spanish Lake: The Pacific in the Iberian World, 1521-1898 (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014): xi.

[12] Ross Bullen, “Transpacific Interpretation,” Canadian Review of American Studies 42, no. 2 (2015): 205–36; Riet Delsing, Articulating Rapa Nui: Polynesian Cultural Politics in a Latin American Nation-State (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2015); Matt Matsuda, Pacific Worlds: A History of Seas, Peoples, and Cultures (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012); María Montt Strabucchi, “Imagining China in Contemporary Latin American Literature” (The University of Manchester, 2017).

[13] Jason Oliver Chang, “Toward a Hemispheric Asian American History,” in David K Yoo and Eiichiro Azuma (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Asian American History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016) : 30–49; Pedro Iacobelli, Postwar Emigration to South America from Japan and the Ryukyu Islands (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017); Benjamin Nicolas Narvaez, “Chinese Coolies in Cuba and Peru: Race, Labor, and Immigration, 1839-1886” (The University of Texas at Austin, 2010); Maria Montt Strabucchi, “‘Writing about China’ Latin American Travelogues during the Cold War: Bernardo Kordon’s ‘600 Millones y Uno’ (1958), and Luis Oyarzún’s ‘Diario de Oriente, Unión Soviética, China e India’ (1960),” Caminhos Da História 21, no. 1 (2016): 93–124; Toshio Yanaguida and María Dolores Rodriguez del Alisal, Japoneses En América (Madrid: Mapfre, 1992); Maude, H. E., Slavers in Paradise: The Peruvian Slave Trade in Polynesia, 1862-1864 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1981).

[14] Arif Dirlik, “Introduction: Pacific Contradictions,” in Arif Dirlik (ed.),What Is in a Rim: Critical Perspective on the Pacific Region Idea (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998): 3–13.J A Hoskins and V T Nguyen, Transpacific Studies: Framing an Emerging Field (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2014).

[15] Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, O trato dos viventes: formação do Brasil no Atlântico Sul, séculos XVI e XVII (Companhia das Letras, 2000).

[16] Henri Lefebvre, La Production de l’espace (Economica, 1974); Reinhart Koselleck, Futures past: on the semantics of historical time, trad. par Keith Tribe (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985); Rogers Brubaker, Ethnicity Without Groups (Cambridge; London: Harvard University Press, 2004).

Avec le soutien de l'Institut des Amériques et les laboratoires CREW (EA4399), CRIAL (EA2052), et CREDA (UMR7227) de l'Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3.

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