Expansive Science in Southern Mexico

Expansive Science: Medium and Discipline in Southern Mexican Intellectual Practice, 1880–1920

Robert Kett

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“Book of Tributes,” Antonio Peñafiel, 1889, Monumentos del Arte Mexicano Antiguo.

This project examines antiquarian and natural historical practice in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century southern Mexico, analyzing the visualization of the regions nature and cultural past in reproductive media and the role of provincial intellectuals in national projects of progress and development. In reconstructing a network of naturalist and antiquarian collecting and publication in the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and Yucatan, I am concerned with documenting how scientific knowledge circulated on the global periphery, how intellectuals actively participated in the exploration and development of remote regions, and how media of scholarly documentation served to connect provincial scientists to global scientific debates. My analysis centers on a small network of regional elites whose investigations spanned a wide range of disciplinesbotany, antiquarianism, linguistics, engineering, statistics, and other fields. These scientists' transdisciplinary practices sought a holistic response to a perceived ignorance of Mexico's southern frontiers and left them well positioned to participate in national debates concerning the development and exploitation of the region. In addition to bridging an array of disciplines, this work was also communicated in a variety of reproductive media: scientists reproduced tracings of ancient codices in lithographic prints, sent botanical specimens to international collections and World's Fairs, and documented their own collections in photographic albums. My research considers drawing, lithography, photography, and collecting both as technologies for documenting southern Mexicos nature and cultural past but also as charged sites for articulating ambivalent relations to dominant Euro-American scientific discourses and visual practices from the national and global periphery.