Inventing the hinterlands : Africans and Africa in the sixteenth-century Ibero-Atlantic imaginary
- This dissertation examines how early modern historians used knowledge of African peoples and cultures to create a racialized geographic identity—a single idea of "Africanness." Unlike their highly-educated humanist contemporaries, the writers whose work I examine were not among the greatest rhetoricians of their time. Yet they nonetheless produced historical works that redefined the genre of history in the same way that Garcilaso's sonnets, Camões's Lusiads, and Cervantes's Don Quijote challenged generic categories like Lyric, Epic, and the Novel. Despite their importance, these complex histories have rarely received a similar kind of close attention to that bestowed upon the literary classics of this period. Indeed, I argue that the reason that histories such as Miscelánea antartica (Ecuador, c. 1586), Tratado dos reinos da Guiné do Cabo Verde (Cape Verde, c. 1594), and Historia del rebelión de los moriscos de Granada (Granada, Spain, c. 1600) defied conventional categories is precisely due to the inherently messy task faced by their authors: the need to reconcile their local lived experiences with both their cultural education in Renaissance humanism and their ongoing participation in a transcontinental oppressive system of power. All these histories hold within them an inherent tension: they promise insights into specific peoples and regions, yet can only offer them by means of frequent comparisons with other sites in the increasingly interconnected world. In particular, Africa, as the most familiar "unknown" space for Europeans, becomes a key referent for understanding events in Ecuador, Cape Verde and Granada (Spain). Their efforts to distinguish a racialized "African" identity from an Iberian or Amerindian identity rely on the creative recombination of discourses from diverse sources, including Classical authors, theologians, antiquarian writings and eyewitness accounts. However, it is not simply a kind of mythology found in Classical authors like Pliny, Strabo, or Ptolemy that informs these authors' comparisons, but their own direct experience with African peoples. I demonstrate how all three historians both acknowledge and attempt to curb what they perceive as an undesirable African influence on the Spanish and Portuguese imperial project. Instead of separating these identities in clear-cut fashion, however, their works instead demonstrate how mutually influential these emergent racialized geographic identities were. I argue that these writers develop an idiosyncratic system of mirrors, in which a newly racialized image of Africans and Africa serves to elucidate aspects of other peoples and territories in the Spanish and Portuguese empires, including peripheral regions of the Iberian Peninsula itself. "Inventing the hinterlands" is the name I give to this process whereby writers attempted to domesticate real uncertainties about unfamiliar regions by collapsing the enormous geographic, ethnic, and cultural diversity of Africans into a single identity, to then subsequently flatten other identities as well. This research shifts the conversation away from the spatial binaries that have dominated the field of literary and cultural studies of early modern Iberian and Transatlantic studies, such as metropole/colony, center/periphery, and most recently, global/local. This is why I use the term hinterlands—translating sertão, a key concept in Lusophone scholarship—which doesn't presuppose a binary correlate but rather allows for a negotiated frame of reference: viewing a place as a hinterland reveals not an objective truth but the perspective of the viewer. Moreover, by demonstrating the influence of Africans even in the work of colonial officials who sought to diminish their importance, my work contributes to an emerging field of scholarship which aims to recuperate the diverse roles played by Africans in the Ibero-Atlantic world, thereby transcending the simplistic idea that enslavement by Europeans was the definitive or representative African experience. This work will also be of interest to scholars who work across the disciplines of literary studies and history, who work with both written and visual sources, or who are interested in the emergence of colonial discourses or the origins and persistence of discursive tropes about Africans and Africa.
|Type of resource
|electronic resource; remote; computer; online resource
|1 online resource.
|Grao Velloso Damato Oliveira, Leonardo
|Greene, Roland, 1957-
|Greene, Roland, 1957-
|Degree committee member
|Stanford University, Department of Comparative Literature
|Statement of responsibility
|Leonardo Velloso-Lyons (aka Grao Velloso Damato Oliveira).
|Submitted to the Department of Comparative Literature.
|Thesis Ph.D. Stanford University 2022.
- © 2022 by Leonardo Grao Velloso Damato Oliveira
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