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Journal of Historical Geography 35 (2009) 382404


Jens Andermann, The Optic of the State: Visuality and Power in Argentina and Brazil, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007, xv 256 pages, US$27.95 paperback. This book adds to a ourishing area of scholarship that examines the visual nature of power in colonial or postcolonial settings, in the tradition of Mary Louise Pratts Imperial Eyes (Routledge, 1993). The Optic of the State revolves around a comparative study of museums, archives, maps, and photographs in Brazil and Argentina, from roughly 1870 to 1910. During this period, the author argues, the state develops a new way of seeing (p. 207) that allows it to become a distinctive agent, set apart from the eld of social relations (p. 1). This bureaucratic and rationalistic optic transforms nature and society into a eld for capital accumulation, while naturalizing the nation-state itself. The body of the book is divided into two main parts, Museums and Maps. The rst section provides important background on the origins of key institutions of knowledge in both countries, such as the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro and the Museo de La Plata in Argentina. Increasingly, the layout of museums and presentation of their artifacts came to support an evolutionary narrative of the nation-state. The La Plata museum, for example, laid out a spatio-temporal itinerary for the visitor, from paleontology (assemblages of extinct animals occupying national space) to anthropology (assemblages of extinct peoples occupying national space) to the political history of the foreordained nation-state. For museum visitors, their gradual advance from bewilderment to knowledge was . at the same time a formation of national consciousness, emulating at the level of the individual subject the spiritual foundation of the state form itself (p. 51). Contemporary eorts to commemorate, preserve, or construct national histories were marked by major controversy among members of the lettered elite (p. 100). Such debates were introspective and complex, and posed questions not only of authenticity versus representation, but also the presents relation with its various pasts (p. 101). Andermann closely analyzes the debate over mide de Mayo, a monumenthe reconstruction of the Pira tal obelisk to Argentinas independence, in Buenos Aires. This debate revealed a fear of modern pomp overshadowing the achievements of heroic yet unassuming ancestors, and exposed an anxiety of salvaging a memory always already verging on oblivion (p. 106), with the same concern coloring the foundation of the National Historical Museum, also in Buenos Aires. This museum, populated by relics of the colonial and early independence period, asserted the moral authority of the patriarchal Creole household against the socially disordering threats of immigration, capitalism, and modernity. The second section, Maps, analyzes the spatial iconographies of the nation-state (p. 129), reected not only in historical maps, but also in archival photographs of military and scientic expeditions. The author poses an intriguing dierence in the spatial imaginaries of the two countries: in Brazil, state actors were concerned with establishing the interior as a moral heartland with vast potential but in need of state-led development, while in Argentina, Patagonia was situated as an exterior realm to be conquered. Andermann examines the iconography of key events in the formation of both nation-states, such as the Conquest of the Desert in Argentina, the subjugation of remaining Indian tribes in Tierra del Fuego, and the crushing of the Canudos rebellion in Brazil in 1902. Unsurprisingly, the composition and symbolism of the images mirror the violent yet moralizing ethos of conquest. More startling is the extent to which image-making was orchestrated for political purposes, particularly Julio A. Rocas masterful manipulation of the Conquest of the Desert, which launched his decades-long domination of the national political scene. The most convincing analysis of the states cartographic enterprises is directed toward the Planalto Expedition in Brazil (1892), in which a team of scientists and soldiers demarcated the future site of the national capital (Bras lia, eventually) in the countrys Central Plateau. The Planalto Expedition was a modernist project par excellence, superimposing an abstract Cartesian grid over

Reviews / Journal of Historical Geography 35 (2009) 382404 the tropical landscape to delimit a capital territory of precisely 14,400 km2. Andermann points out that, despite these arbitrary dimensions, the location itself was chosen for its natural features. This zone, portrayed as the source of Brazils major rivers, was seen as the natural heart of the nation. As a result, the expedition was as much metaphysical as scientic, with the surveying team enacting highly symbolic cartographic rituals and photographic commemoration along its 4000 km route. With its focus on the visual representations of state action, The Optic of the State oers new insights into the origins of modern statecraft in Latin America. The sheer quantity of maps, photographs, and other visual texts analyzed is impressive: there are over fty archival images in this richly illustrated volume, and hundreds more are available in a searchable online archive that the author helped to develop. Historical geographers may appreciate the diverse methodological tools drawn from Marxism, psychoanalysis, postcolonial studies, and poststructuralism that support the authors penetrating interpretation of historical images. Yet others may be put o by the way Andermann inicts deconstructionist analyses on these historical images. His bewilderingly dense and jargon-lled appraisals uncover dubious meanings in old maps and photographs. The book works best when Andermann withholds judgment and instead gives voice to the perspectives of historical actors, as illustrated by the debate over the Pira mide de Mayo. While the book is occasionally grounded in the rich political histories of Brazil and Argentina, these seem incidental to the narrative, in which the state, rather than historical political actors, is the protagonist. Symptomatic of this misplaced focus is the general lack of engagement with the work of key historians of Brazil and Argentina, who would have provided important context. Moreover, the author fails to even mention recent, noteworthy scholarship that covers similar historical and theoretical terrain, especially James Scotts Seeing Like a State (Yale, 1998) and Raymond Craibs Cartographic Mexico (Duke, 2004). Fuller contextualization may have restrained some of the authors questionable readings of history. At best, it is overstatement to assert that the modern museum is one of the sites where the rationalist, emancipatory contents of the modern project already announce their eventual falling over into pure destruction, ie. the thanatopolitics of fascism and dictatorship (p. 17). So broadly construed, the modern project makes for an easy object of critique. Although the book has occasional ashes of insight, its larger argument does not cohere in a convincing way ironically, not unlike most museum exhibitions, which are memorable for their outstanding


individual pieces, rather than the dubious narrative the museologist tries to impose on them. Eric D. Carter Grinnell College, USA doi:10.1016/j.jhg.2009.01.003

Linda Colley, The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: a Woman in World History, London, Harper Press, 2007, xxxii 363 pages, 25 hardback. The eponymous Elizabeth Marsh was chosen as the subject of this book because hers was the career of a remarkable but barely known woman . who travelled farther and more dangerously than any female contemporary for whom records survive (p. xix). The account combines scholarly contextual history and biography in six (largely) chronological chapters. The book starts with a brief overview of Marshs biography, which is as well, as she doesnt reappear for another fty pages or so, while her family background and Britains place in the world are examined. The brief summary of Marshs biography gives a sense of the varied ways in which the research interests of many historical geographers intersect with her life story: womens travel accounts, gendered social relations, colonialism, postcolonialism, slavery, race, the Royal Navy and proto-globalisation, to name but some. Elizabeth Marsh was conceived in Jamaica, her mother was possibly of mixed race descent, and her father a shipwright in the Royal Navy. Her parents arrived at Portsmouth, only weeks before her birth and Elizabeth Marsh was christened there in October 1735. Milbourne Marshs work for the Navy took the family to Menorca in 1755, where they lived until French invasion forced them to withdraw. It was at this point that Elizabeth Marshs story became her own, rather than merely that of her familys. Apparently against her parents wishes, but not stopped by them, at the age of 20 Marsh sailed, unaccompanied, in Gibraltar. Her life to date might to meet her ance have given her the condence to travel at sea independently, but this choice was nonetheless contrary to the gendered and classed social conventions of the mid-eighteenth century. This alone might have damaged that most vulnerable of currencies, a womans reputation, but her fate was sealed when she, along with male travellers, was captured by Moroccan corsairs and taken to Morocco. This is the true ordeal of the books title, as Marsh was compelled to cohabit with her (male) fellow prisoners, pose