Geography and Empire in the Late Renaissance. Botero's Assignment, Western Universalism, and the Civilizing Process [*]
Headley, John M., Renaissance Quarterly
The article seeks to relate the emerging, new discipline of geography to the European and specifically the Iberian, Catholic experience of expansion, power, and empire in those decades of Spain's alignment with Portugal and their respective colonial enterprises. The case of Giovanni Botero, the preeminent Italian interpreter of America for the later sixteenth century, is examined in terms of Catholic expansion, world geography, hut more immediately in terms of the European civilizing process on the indigenous peoples of America as that process pertains to the pre-Columbian civilizations, Christian conversion and the concurrent practice of the reducciones.
The present essay attempts to draw out and explicate the case for that complex of forces constituting within the Western tradition a comprehensive, unifying, universalizing process released upon the globe by Renaissance Europe, and now peculiarly reinforced by an incipient geographical culture. The inherent imperialism of Europe's geographical knowledge, best known in the work of the Royal Geographical Society during the nineteenth century,  had its earliest manifestations in the new trajectory upon which England embarked after 1575  and, as will be argued here, in the practices and attitudes of the Catholic world of Spain and of Rome in America, Asia, and Africa -- in short, wherever new lands and non-European peoples appeared and even where they did not. But in contrast to the better known English example with its distinctively emergent national character, the Iberian, reflecting a Mediterranean culture with pronounced classical roots and antecedents, will evince a more universalizing character in its commitment to a civilizing process.
For such a broad inquiry a few preliminary definitions are in order. From the very beginning of their currency in Europe, the terms geography and cosmography and their connotations would be intertwined, expressive of their common source in Claudius Ptolemy's own Geographia, which in its first Latin translation by Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia would be entided Cosmographia. The same Ptolemy of the better known astronomical Almagest defines at the outset of his Geographia the decisive term "as the pictorial representation of the entire known earth and with what it is generally associated"; chorography, from which it is distinguished, treats the individual local parts.  Most simply stated, the geography inherited from classical antiquity included three branches: the mathematical, the chorographic, and the descriptive, the first best evinced by Ptolemy, the last by Strabo.  Cosmography figures only as another name, derived from Pliny and imported by Angeli, in keeping with the understanding of the Latins and their respect for the authority of Pliny the Elder.  Ptolemy mathematized geography, by treating the celestial and terrestrial globes as equivalent, applying the same grid system to each, and reaffirming the parallel belts or climates.  Indeed the charting of the heavens and of the earth would remain so enmeshed that it is possible Ptolemy's crucial third projection for the earth's surface, presented in book 7, was actually constructed through the use of an armillary, the traditional sphere for the construction of the heavens.  The gradual detachment of these terms and their substantive connotations would in the course of the sixteenth century lead to the displacement of cosmographia in flavor of geographia, although the former name would linger on until the end of the eighteenth century.
Secondly, as used in this study, the term universal connotes that principle inherited from classical antiquity expressing a potentially comprehensive integration or inclusion of all peoples into a broad community together with the theoretical, legal, and constitutional issues entailed.  The expanding oikoumene of the Greek world, informed by the Stoic notion of cosmopolis, found its practical realization in the Roman Empire and Roman Law. While Cicero defines the barbarians and the provincials apart from the resulting community, he extends to them at the same time that community. As Anthony Pagden nicely expresses it: "the frontier between the world of civil men and that of the barbarians was forever dissolving." Christianity itself provides a further reinforcement and dimension to this universal dynamic as evinced in the Pauline appeal, Galatians 3:28, to a transcendent oneness in Christ Jesus. With the grafting of the Christian Church upon the Roman community, the Imperium Christianum partakes of and ex tends this same "simultaneous open exclusiveness," this tension between an apparently narrow identity and a potentially broad inclusion. The Aristotelian-Ciceronian complex served to demarcate the world of civil (urban) civic humanity from the barbarians, provincials, pagani, and outsiders, yet opened itself up to their inclusion. The fifth-century Christian and the sixteenth-century Spaniard would have recourse to this complex mechanism of incorporation.
In the latter case, it would subsequently appear that only the papacy; not the classical Roman Empire or any of its secular derivatives, possessed anything approaching a true universality. For only the Christian Church extended or sought to extend its ecumenical jurisdiction to all humankind, making any independent secular claim to such universality essentially rhetorical, unless it somehow informed and validated itself by the more certain ecclesiastical claims and religious aura. In the sixteenth century such a role would fall to Spain - and to her also the task of attempting to achieve a measure of coincidence among the overlapping concepts of humanity, Christianity, and classical (urban) civility.
Thirdly, as used in this essay, "civilizing process" does not directly connote the properly historical relativism and subtle mutations suggested by Norbert Elias in his fundamental study by that title, but rather a blunter, more substantial reality, operating as an ingredient within the crash program for the conversion of newly discovered indigenous peoples: namely, those rational and humane features informing the classical tradition together with further enhancements by contemporary European culture.  While already evident, as we have just argued, in the universalizing tendencies of the Western inheritance as serving decisively to supplement Christianity, the classical component, defining the civilizing process, warrants consideration once again, but now in its more specifically secular dimensions.
Among the new types of knowledge germinating within the Renaissance, geography recommends itself for historical inquiry. Although most modern professional geographers understand geography to have established itself as a distinct, formal discipline only in the course of the later nineteenth century, thereby effectively dismissing the dramatic developments in the sixteenth century, the early practitioners of this study in their own time claimed that their geography constituted a discipline. Indeed they made important and fundamental advances in the mathematical and chorographic branches of this emerging subject as well as its better known descriptive branch, of which the last principally distinguished these early efforts in the eyes of the twentieth-century professional. Yet the abrupt expansion of the geographic enterprise, rooted in the heightened authority of experience as well as mathematics, was not without its ambiguities. Admittedly, the fictitious and the hyperbolic jostled the more scientific features emphasized here; geography, especially under the name of cosmography, would long support a number of traditional fictions, as well as new ones created by the imagination and the intoxication of the autoptic vision.  Nevertheless, the mathematical/cartographic import of the young discipline would survive the fictitious and hyperbolic epicycles of inflated claims to personal experience and the indulgent entertainment of a broad readership.
On the other hand, in emphasizing the dignity and scientific character of geography as an emerging discipline, we must not fail to admit its practical and subjective distortions for economic and political ends. As evinced in the map, geographical knowledge promptly assumed the form of a commodity subject to the interests of princely patronage and the political and commercial claims of empire. The map had in fact become a politically and commercially charged product. In the Castilian-Portuguese controversy over the longitude of the Moluccas, the professional geographers, the new scientific experts of the day, would now notably be brought to the negotiating table of high diplomacy where each side sought to advance its own rival, partisan claims. In its basic acquisitiveness -- or better, its essentially rhetorical nature -- the new discipline of study could not afford to be neutral and detached. 
The imperializing, universalizing element appears to be integral to the nature of geography, or at least to the exploitation of this new form of knowledge by Europeans of the sixteenth century. Maps represent a language of power anticipating empire: to name, to locate mathematically, to define cartographically in relation to others becomes the essential preparatory step for possession, control, mastery.  If the development of perspective in the Renaissance afforded the European the conceptual key to such global dominance, something of the seed of this recognition occurs in the thought of that great pioneer of perspective's study and uses, L. B. Alberti, when he confidently seeks to apply to the visible world the universal, mathematical vision of proportionality, first revealed to the age in Ptolemy's Geography. 
A brief consideration of the emerging geographical culture of late medieval and Renaissance Europe best provides the necessary historical context for our investigation. Inherent in this new theater of intellectual enterprise, the study of geography operated universalizing and imperializing forces that would afford Europe the supreme advantage of defining the global arena. For the energies released by the new discipline of geography in the form of mathematical perspective and the graticule of mathematical coordinates would equip Europeans, especially Iberians, with an improved cartography and navigation, opening up the world to their aggressiveness and allowing them to begin to establish a global arena of opportunity, exploitation, and conquest.
Deep within the recesses of the medieval university's instruction, located in the quadrivium of the arts faculty, there existed a practical mathematics involving geometry and optics -- the last of which having implications for perspective. Sacrobosco's De sphaera, as a standard textbook, had played a part in this respect since the mid-thirteenth century. Shortly thereafter, John Pecham's Perspectiva communis became the standard textbook on optics at the universities down to the end of the sixteenth century. Although the work did not address the distancing factor and the rationalization of space, it nevertheless sought to describe how objects appear to an observer.  During the period 1344 to 1357, at the University of Paris, Domenico da Chivasso moved toward treating perspective, hence optics, as a mathematical science, to be included with the original four of the quadrivium, which now in its expanded form comprised arithmetic, geometry, music, astrology, and perspectiva.  By the time Antonio Pollaiuo lo executed the tomb for Pope Sixtus IV in 1484, he included Perspectiva as the Eighth Liberal Art.  And at the turn of the century when Albrecht Durer came to explain the word perspectiva as meaning a seeing through (ein Durchsehung) rather than the earlier optical sense of a seeing clearly, a perspectival view of space had emerged, no longer satisfied with the foreshortening of individual objects but now going on to the creation of a systematic space, a managed distancing: the entire composition had been turned into a window allowing one to look into this rationalized, artificial space.  Panofsky identifies this linear, perspectival construction as expressive of "a quite specific, indeed specifically modern sense of space, or if you will, sense of the world." Well might it be inquired as to the meaning of this slide from Raumgefuhl ("sense of space") to Weltgefuhl ("sense of the world") only by means of a mere wenn man so will ("or if you will").  Welt not only entails most immediately the physi cal universe, dragging with it profound implications for its measurement and description in a nascent geography, but more largely it suggests a total perspectival consciousness and a distinctively Western perception of reality. 
Yet one of the distinctive features of geography as a new incipient type of knowledge was its necessary and essential links with practicality and application; whatever its mathematical roots in the university, geography from the start appeared as an applied science developing connections with learned humanistic circles outside the university such as that of Paolo Toscanelli in Florence or the Portuguese monarchs' patronage of Jewish astronomers. Here Abraham Zacuto significantly effected the reception of Islamic astronomy and cartography by the Portuguese, as they moved out into the Atlantic to claim new islands and as they inched their way so fatefully down the western coast of Africa during the fifteenth century.  Building upon and itself generating an improved knowledge of geography through successive cartographic refinements, navigation provided the tangible evidence and announcement of the diverse roots and practicalities of the new science. Moreover, through navigation Christianity would at last be able to implement globally its claims to universality.  The compass would serve as metaphor for a type of knowledge that augured Europe's encompassment and potential conquest of the globe.
No single event so mobilized and reoriented this new learning as the recovery and translation into Latin of Ptolemy's Geographia, hitherto lost to the West. Let it be recognized at the outset that this event profoundly reflected what we have come to expect of humanism and the Renaissance: it occurred within the circle of young, Greek aficionados, created by Manuel Chrysoloras's presence in Florence at the end of the fourteenth century. In the Geographia, Ptolemy defines his subject as a survey of the earth in its just proportions and he calls upon its practitioners to concentrate upon the position rather than the nature of a place. Likewise, in its opening chapter he posits mathematical proportionality as applicable both to geography and painting. The Geographia can well be judged the most significant single work in the Italian Renaissance's recovery of classical texts, for it would beckon artists and astronomers, cartographers, and navigators to apply a mathematical proportionality to the visible world. [22 ]
Through Jacopo Angeli's translation, Ptolemy now described to …
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Publication information: Article title: Geography and Empire in the Late Renaissance. Botero's Assignment, Western Universalism, and the Civilizing Process [*]. Contributors: Headley, John M. - Author. Journal title: Renaissance Quarterly. Volume: 53. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2000. Page number: 1119. © 1999 Renaissance Society of America. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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