For these supporters, lobbyists and practitioners, natural history work offered increased scientific knowledge and greater knowledge with practical application for governance, about useful natural resources and navigable routes, for example. Moreover, natural history exploration, and dissemination of the scientific travel writing which resulted, was a form of seeing the territory, through its classification, quantification, description and presention so that ideas about this land could become part of national discussions allowing for its depiction, colonisation, settlement, exploitation and classification. These exploring naturalists processed the land through which they travelled, taking knowledge from local, often indigenous people, creating impressions of the value of the landscape on which political leaders acted, and, at the same time, as others have argued, aligning particular territory and landscapes with the idea of ‘Chile’. Natural history exploration was a form of processing the natural environment.
While the process of exploration rendered the land knowable, tameable and usable, for a variety of purposes, that variety of purposes is part of what’s key in understanding nineteenth-century natural history in Chile; the landscape was not simply brought into nationalist projects or depicted as rich for exploitation. Some landscapes were rejected as unusable or problematic. Exploration, publication, letters and illustrations all contributed to the dissemination of knowledge about territory to the north and south. This article will first discuss the historical context and analysis of the early years of natural history in Independent Chile, then it will offer analysis of some early natural histories and descriptions of different regions. It will end looking at some examples of how these ideas, once processed by the naturalists, circulated in other fora.
‘Visita al Volcán de Antuco al momento de una erupción de gas (1 marzo 1839)’.
Croquis del Lago Ranco, Provincia de Valdivia, 1830. Fuente: Mapoteca Archivo Nacional
Láminas de costumbres [estampa] : del Atlas de la historia física y política de Chile / de Claudio Gay.
I studied history at the University of California, Berkeley before completing my DPhil in history at St Antony’s College, Oxford University. I then worked at Birkbeck College, University of London and the University of Manchester before starting at the University of Aberdeen in the autumn of 2012.