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Indigenous Geographies of the Colonial World

The Apurímac Canyon as viewed from the Capitán Rumi viewpoint. Photo taken by the author, Sept. 2014.

A Spatial and Environmental History of Indigenous Spaces and Colonial Enclaves (Peru: 1500 – 1689)

How did pre- and post-contact Peru's many geographies - its social, environmental, political, and economic geographies - change shape during Inka and Spanish colonial expansion across the region?

What effect did successive imperial invasions and conquests have on the Indigenous areas of colonial Peru?

This project is a digital and spatial analysis of the ways the social, environmental, political, and economic geography of Indigenous Peru changed over the course of two centuries during the transition from Inka to Spanish colonial dominion. It adapts and applies new, cutting-edge techniques from corpus and computational linguistics, literary geography, affective and experimental cartography, and spatial history towards the creation of a "deep map" and "spatial narrative" mapping how these changes took place across space as well as time.1

The first two centuries after European contact was a period of tremendous upheaval in the Andes. Wars between Spaniards, Andeans, Inkas, and various allied Andean-Spanish factions ravaged Peru and caused Indigenous populations to plummet. While the Spanish colonial administration often modified rather than replace most Inka institutions, they often did so in a way that made them more destructive and disruptive forms of imperial extraction. Europeans introduced Old World plants, animals, and farming technologies, which succeeded more in some contexts than others. Yet, despite the enormous upheaval of this period we know little about the effects these changes wrought across the Americas.

To answer the above questions, I have created the Early Colonial Andes (ECA) digital corpus of texts. These texts were largely written in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and range from narrative accounts to trial testimony, land titles, and administrative surveys. Given the fact early colonial Andeans, Spaniards, and mestizos alike created precious few maps, nearly all spatial and geographic information about the period lies concealed in historical texts or buried in archaeological sites. Applying and developing new techniques for the parsing, extraction, analysis, and mapping of this long-buried geographical informatiomn allows the reconstruction of the humanized geographies in new and exciting ways. At the moment, the ECA (Early Colonial Andes) corpus contains approximately thirty texts fully-encoded with XML, with dozens of other texts in progress.

This project addresses some of the big, still unanswered questions about the changes brought by the meeting of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. These questions include:

  1. How do we explain the Indigenous population collapse?
  2. How did the human and natural geographies of both Hemisphere change as the result of the "Columbian Exchange"?

In this project, I explore these questions while also amending them. Inspired by five centuries of Indigenous resilience and ingenuity, for example, I modify the first question to ask: How did Native peoples creatively respond to immense military, economic, ecological, political, and cultural pressures to persevere and survive?

The second question draws on Alfred Crosby's work on the Columbian Exchange, but also William Cronon's Changes in the Land as well as important recent scholarship by historical ecologists. The latter has largely been produced by scholars from or of Latin America and thus has received little attention from North American historians. Despite the importance of the dramatic changes that accompanied European invasions of the Indigenous Americas, as detailed by these authors, we still know little about how exactly they affected Indigenous communities in the early colonial period at the local level. More specifically, we know little about how these changes varied across space and the degree to which environmental factors or human decisions explain this variation.

This project also draws on previous 'regional' histories of Peru - which tend to show the unique historical trajectories of regions near and far from colonial centers of power. However, as a spatial and environmental history, this story treads on new ground by examining how the effects of colonialism and Indigenous engagement with and resistance against the colonial state varied across space (both within and across regions). Among other things, it examines how Spaniards seized prime agricultural lands designated for the Inka state in moderate valleys, while Andean farmers often successfully used the Spanish colonial legal system to preserve control of most of their lands away from centers of Spanish power. It explores how and where Old World livestock like sheep and cattle became mixed or interspersed with flocks of Andean llamas and alpacas. It plots the spatial and temporal changes in human and animal populations and the goods Andeans' tributed to *encomenderos* or colonial officials. It traces Andeans' use of pre-Hispanic customs of making and re-enacting land claims and how they modified these customs to the demands of the Spanish colonial legal system. It reconstructs Indigenous geographical knowledge recorded in the ECA corpus and maps this knowledge onto a map presenting new glimpses into the vast Indigenous hinterland of early colonial Peru.

Sources & Methods: Geo-historical and environmental data

Few historical maps survive from the early colonial Andes. Andeans preferred to use three-dimensional clay and stone sculptures to model the landscape, few of which have survived. Few of the Spanish invaders were literate. Even fewer ever tried to map Andean territory. This scarcity of maps means nearly all surviving descriptions of geographic and spatial data from the early colonial period are found in texts. Therefore, to reconstruct the historial geography of the Andes, I have constructed Texts of the Early Colonial Andes, a digital corpus of geohistorical texts. These texts were largely written in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and describe the changing geography of the Andes, from Inka to Spanish dominion. Examples of these documents include:

  1. Early eyewitness accounts from conquistadors and others who traveled through the region in the first few decades after the Spanish arrival (1530s - 1560s).
  2. Early chronicles of Inka and Spanish colonial history in Peru, which often contain detailed descriptions of Andean geography (1550s to 17th century).
  3. One of the earliest and most comprehensive surviving tribute assessment records (1570s) survives for the present-day south-central Peru (but not for other regions).
  4. Summaries of geographic and spatial information, such as the cosmographer Juan López de Velasco's Geografía y descripción universal de las Indias (1574) and the priest Antonio Vásquez de Espinosa's Compendio y descripción de las Indias Occidentales (1628)
  5. For the Andes, 21 geographic surveys (relaciones geográficas) were recorded and have survived as part of a larger effort to survey American territories under Spanish control in the 1580s.
  6. Traveler's documents from the first part of Cieza de León's chronicle (1553) to a series of such documents that occurred with greater frequency during the seventeenth century
  7. A 1689 ecclesiastical survey of the bishopric of Cusco including much of south-central Peru.
  8. A collection of land titles - documents which date from the late sixteenth century to the present-day - were recently published by a team of scholars.5 This publication of centuries of land documents may be the only one of its kind.

Besides these printed documents, I will also rely on copies of hundreds of documents I have collected from the General Archive of the Indies (Archivo General de Indias) in Sevilla, the archives of Lima, Cusco, other smaller regional archives in Peru, and from other depositories such as the Lilly Library (IN), the Library of Congress, and the British Library.

Thus far, this corpus includes thirty fully-encoded texts with dozens more in progress. I am currently in talks with a digitization company to contract out some of the laborious work of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and basic, structural tagging (i.e. chapters, page breaks, paragraphs, footnotes, etc.). I then focus on encoding and analyzing the content of these texts. Thus, all texts are 'tagged' or encoded with the following information:

Once fully encoded, I can query this corpus in an infinite number of ways.

1. Pioneering spatial humanists have recently developed the concepts of "deep maps" and "spatial narratives." For an overview of these terms, see: David Bodenhamer, et al. *Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives.* Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2015.
5. Rainer Hostnig, Palomino D, and Decoster Ciro, Proceso de composición y titulación de tierras en Apurímac-Perú, siglos XVI-XX (Cusco: Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas y Asesoramiento: Asociación Kuraka: Instituto de Estudios Históricos sobre América Latina, Universidad de Viena, 2007).