A Geography of Impertinence
Clayton McCarl, Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages
My dissertation research centers around a seventeenth-century Spanish treatise on piracy and contraband. This document contains an array of geographical information that is a challenge to any but the most expert reader. In some cases, place names have changed. In others, the locations mentioned have declined in importance. In still others, the places mentioned never existed at all (for example, the legendary island of San Borondón). Familiar names are equally problematic, as they often reference physical spaces and political entities quite different from what we might expect today. Certain regions of the globe were still little understood in the era, and we thus must keep in mind the air of speculation surrounding terms such as “Tierra incógnita austral.” Spanish writers of the day also relied on political divisions — such as the line of demarcation drawn by the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas — that have long since lost meaning. In an attempt to clarify these matters, I began to experiment with a series of maps by the seventeenth-century Portuguese cartographer João Teixeira Albernaz. Originally conceiving these images as visual annotations, I soon started to explore more complex ways to relate the maps to the text I am currently editing. In addition, I began to see possibilities for bringing other documents from Spanish and foreign sources into the project. The result is an interactive web application built around the historical maps and a series of TEI-encoded texts. As an annotation tool, this resource is designed to clarify the type of geographical and related historical questions described above. As a map-viewing application, it seeks not just to clear up confusion, but also to provoke curiosity, drawing readers into a corpus of literary, historical and historiographical texts that explore questions of piracy, contraband and imperial competition in the Early Modern period.