UBC’s Department of History presents:
Ernesto Capello (Associate Professor of Latin American HistoryMacalester College), “Graphic and Narrative Depictions of the Equatorial Andes in Geodesic Science and Landscape Art, 18th-20th Centuries”
Thursday, September 29, 2016, 12:30-2pm
Buchanan Tower, Room 1197
The eighteenth-century Franco-Hispanic Geodesic Mission to Quito (present-day Ecuador) is well known for its measurement of the arc of the equatorial meridian, which helped confirm the impact of Newtonian gravitational theory on the shape of the Earth. Despite several recent studies of the mission, its representation of equatorial nature and specifically of the equatorial Andes has received minimal attention. For figures such as Charles Marie de la Condamine or Pierre Bouguer, these mountains at times represented a boon for geodesic science due to the prevalence of relatively flat inter-Andine valleys with prominent peaks serving as naturally occurring geodesic markers. However, the abundance of ravines and rivers, the frequent fog, the bitter cold and high altitude proved treacherous and retarded their progress. Pierre Bouguer even detailed the deleterious effect of Mount Chimborazo’s enormous mass on the swing of a pendulum, which made coordinated astronomical measurements impossible. Overcoming these anxieties manifested in innovative graphic strategies juxtaposing maps of geodesic measurement with profile views of the Andean mountains, images that anticipated nineteenth-century thematic mapping techniques, particularly the combination of text, image, and data deployed by other Andeanists like the Prussian Alexander von Humboldt or the Colombian Francisco José de Caldas.
This paper will address this lacuna by considering this graphic and narrative depiction of the equatorial Andes both for its pioneering scientific and visual strategies but also as an outgrowth of French fascination with dangerous mountain spaces, using the Alps as a point of comparison. Finally, in order to consider the lasting impact of these tropes, it will provide a brief gloss of subsequent visual and narrative depictions of the equatorial Andes, especially Mount Chimborazo, by nineteenth-century figures like Humboldt, Caldas, Frederic Edwin Church, Ecuadorian landscape artists Rafael Troya and Luis A. Martinez, and a commemorative French Geodesic Mission to Ecuador (1901-1906).