The unmaking of empire : nature and politics in the early Colombian imagination, 1808-1821
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In this report I argue that during the independence wars from Spain and the first decade of republican rule, the learned elite of the viceroyalty of New Granada—present day Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Panama—articulated narratives of nature and science to debates over provincial hierarchies, to justify provincial unity, foreign commercial integration, and the creation of political symbols for the new polity. In the process of undoing the Spanish empire, the lettered elite conceived of their homeland’s natural bounties as key cultural capital, and as the language with which to frame their aspirations as political community, as part of a national polity or of regional patrias. By using newspapers, constitutional debates, scientific writings, and visual evidence, I place the elite’s sensibilities and concerns about their fatherland’s nature in the wider context of political transformations that took place from 1808 and on. In the first section, I explore eighteenth-century assessments of New Granada’s nature, offering an overview of key conceptions of New Granada’s geopolitical situation and nature that shaped the Creole imagination. In the second section, I characterize the reforms brought about by the Bourbon monarchy in New Granada, giving weight to the socialization of practices of the utility of science among the learned elite. The third section illustrates how Neogranadians deployed nature in assessing provincial fragmentation, and in the debate over the preeminence of Santafé as capital when the monarchic crisis exploded. The fourth section explores how nature was employed as an argument in debates over the integration of present-day Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador into a single republic, and the adoption of a federal or a central state. Finally, section five discusses the role of New Granada’s natural landmarks in discourses of provincial and foreign commercial integration, along with a reflection on the use of nature as political symbol for the new republic. My aim is to explore the ways that the lettered elite incorporated nature into geopolitical discourses of a polity separate from Spain, and to uncover the tensions embedded in the ways they imagined their desired nation.