H – Knowledge production

Frontiers of knowledge, knowledge in the frontiers: Cultures of knowledge and patterns of exclusions in Early Modern imperial contexts (15th-18th centuries)

Event Details

  • Date

    Saturday, 27 June - 14:00 – 16:00

  • Venue
    tba
  • Theme
    H – Knowledge production
Convenor
  • Leonardo Ariel Carrió Cataldi (University College London)
Chair
  • Laura León Llerena (Durham University)
Commentator
  • Blake Smith (University of Chicago)
Panelists
  • Laura León Llerena (Durham University)
  • Kristina Nikolovska (National and University Library "St. Kliment of Ohrid", Skopje)
  • Leonardo Ariel Carrió Cataldi (University College London)
  • Blake Smith (University of Chicago)

Papers

  • Laura León Llerena
    Indigenous knowledge and the frontiers between literacy and numeracy in 16th century Spanish and British America

    Indigenous knowledge and the frontiers between literacy and numeracy in 16th century Spanish and British America

    Beyond dogmatic rivalries, the European Reformation and Counterreformation nurtured competition towards the creation of a body of knowledge whose practical application aided imperial expansion in the Americas and Asia. This presentation zooms in on the linguistic and mathematical knowledge developed in the 16th century in the interactions between indigenous peoples of the Americas and Catholics and Protestants. Underlining how European notions of literacy and numeracy established the conditions for such interactions, I argue that the colonial power imbalance erased the role of indigenous peoples as active agents of knowledge. José de Acosta’s (1540-1500) and Thomas Harriot’s (c.1560-1621) descriptions of the geography and natural resources of the New World and its native inhabitants were made widely available in the illustrated editions by Theodor De Bry’s printing workshop. Less visually appealing but perhaps with a deeper impact were these contemporaries’ research and writings on Amerindian languages and modes of keeping accounts (narrative and quantitative). While the Spanish Jesuit Acosta transformed oral indigenous Andean languages into standardized written form useful for Catholic Evangelization, the English mathematician and astronomer Harriot turned the oral Carolina Algonquian language into a written language that could facilitate gathering information from native interlocutors. This presentation will analyze how their pursuit for knowledge that could aid the expansion of Christianity and Empire(s) included as well ambivalent observations of indigenous American’s unfamiliarity with Western mathematics and its practical applications (clocks, compasses and other instruments), while expressing amazement at the ways in which natives measured and organized their world in their own terms.
  • Kristina Nikolovska
    A Glimpse into Rivalry: Early Modern Religious Diaspora and the South Slavic Representation of Imperial Power

    A Glimpse into Rivalry: Early Modern Religious Diaspora and the South Slavic Representation of Imperial Power

    In several Church Slavonic hagiographies and chronicles there are references to South Slavic churchmen moving away from the Ottoman territories in Southeastern Europe to lands under the jurisdiction of Eastern Orthodox rulers. For instance, Constantine of Kostenets (ca. 1380-1431), a well-known writer and a disciple of the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Second Bulgarian Empire, Patriarch Evtimiy of Tarnovo, settled in Stefan Lazarević’s Serbian Despotate a decade after the 1393 Ottoman conquest of Tarnovo. During the War of the Holy League (1683-1699), however, some Serbs who supported anti-Ottoman rebellion, crossed the Danube and Sava rivers seeking refuge in territories governed by the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I. Through a close reading of a marginal inscription recording the Siege of Belgrade in 1688 bound within a copy of the so-called Cetinje Octoechos (1494) at a later date, this paper explores the discursive practices of the South Slavs writing in a “buffer zone” of Ottoman-Habsburg imperial rivalry. The South Slavic chronicler set the siege within an apocalyptic framework of understanding history and by doing so, this paper suggests, he refused to recognise the legitimacy of the Ottoman rule over the province of Vojvodina.
  • Leonardo Ariel Carrió Cataldi
    Early modern astrological encounters: patterns of intellectual and social exclusions on the edges of Iberian empires (West Indies and Moluccas Islands 16th century)

    Early modern astrological encounters: patterns of intellectual and social exclusions on the edges of Iberian empires (West Indies and Moluccas Islands 16th century)

    Early modern Iberian travelogues and chronicles account for a rich variety of subjects related to the expansion of the Spanish and the Portuguese crowns and the so-called “encounters” between Iberian actors and overseas societies. In my presentation I will look at the room these sources made for astrological knowledge. Agents of Iberian imperial expansion used astrology to explain local 'predictions' about their own arrival. While the way of presenting the case of Aztec 'predictions’, rooted in astrological and eschatological knowledge, is a familiar one, new light can be shed on it—and the wider dynamics behind it—through comparison to an understudied case. In a development nearly contemporaneous with the Spanish arrival in Mesoamerica, the Portuguese made contact with the Sultanate of Ternate in insular Southeast Asia. The Portuguese chronicler João de Barros described predictions made by the sultanate's astrologers forecasting the coming of “iron men.” Barros recognized Ternate's astrological 'others' as skilful practitioners and framed his account of the predictions to identify the sultanate as a useful ally in a context where the Portuguese were relatively weak. In my paper I will first look at the astrological intellectual background common to both Iberian cultures. Spanish and Portuguese cosmographers and navigators alike could find aspects of this tradition rooted in Arabic culture in friction with their Catholic belief. Partially banned by the Church, astrology was nevertheless widely practised. Iberians praised astrology especially when it seemed to embody skills associated with astronomy, mathematics and, in some cases, familiarity with different cultures. At the frontiers of the Iberian empires, pilots, cosmographers and chroniclers were pushed to rethink their own classification of knowledge and patterns of social and intellectual exclusions as they faced 'pagan' or 'heretical' societies in which they recognized, nevertheless, what struck them as excellent astrological traditions.
  • Blake Smith
    The Epic of Friso: The South Asian Origins of Friesland between Scholarship and Imperial Fantasy

    The Epic of Friso: The South Asian Origins of Friesland between Scholarship and Imperial Fantasy

    The production of knowledge in European history is entangled with empire in a variety of ways, from the emergence of 'colonial science' at the edge of imperial expansion to shifts within what might seem to be specifically local and provincial epistemic traditions in European cultures. One example of the latter is the discursive transformation of Friso, the legendary founder of the Frisians, supposedly born on the Indian Subcontinent in the Classical Era. First mentioned in medieval chronicles, Friso became the subject of inquiry for learned Frisian, Dutch and German scholars in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The balance of philological learning gradually tipped against his historical existence, but in 1741 he was born anew as a Dutch epic hero and prototype of the Dutch East India Company's colonial rule in Southeast Asia. Reimagined by the poet Willem van Haren, Friso appeared as a model Enlightenment rule (guided by Zoroastrian principles) who guided the Frisians from Punjab to the Netherlands, providing justification for the 'return' of the Dutch to Asia as colonial rulers. Haren's text (and its 1758 revision) transforms not only Friso, but also the boundaries of Frisian identity, integrating it within a Dutch imperial project founded on literary myth-making rather than philological scholarship. The boundaries and meanings of knowledge (e.g., the reality of Friso), and the boundaries and meanings of identities (e.g., the relationship between Frisia and the Netherlands) were reshaped by their contact with imperial ambitions outside Europe.

Abstract

Global history has become an increasingly vibrant and sophisticated field, as scholars explore the circulation of concepts and knowledge-making practices across diverse spaces. The early modern period and empire’s borders or middle zones have attracted particular attention from historians such as Tamar Herzog, Antonella Romano and Simon Schaffer who bring to our attention the networks, brokers and go-betweens that made the early modern world global. This panel explores how early modern imperial actors negotiated not only territorial boundaries but also epistemic categories as they engaged with 'foreign' cultures and practices. Taking a cross-cultural approach to early modern empires and different political realities, it tracks how knowledge production in imperial settings was entangled with the creation of social categories, minorities as well as patterns of social and intellectual exclusions. The panel covers a wide range of cultural areas (the Balkans, the Americas, Europe, South and Southeast Asia) and specific forms, objects and vectors of knowledge (the printing press, mathematics, astrology and historiography). Far from proposing an abstract approach to the history of knowledge and global history, the contributions find a common ground on strongly emphasizing how knowledge circulated and materialized either on practical objects and instruments as well as into printed and manuscript texts that established a conceptual and a concrete idea of what knowledge was and the role it played in classifying social actors. Each of them contributes to a collective perspective on how early modern knowledge-production, in its 'global' dimensions, reproduced and reshaped boundaries between groups, constituting boundaries between Self and Other.