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Surveying the American TropicsA Literary Geography from New York to Rio$
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Maria Cristina Fumagalli, Peter Hulme, Owen Robinson, and Lesley Wylie

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9781846318900

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781846318900.001.0001

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Imperial Archaeology: The American Isthmus as Contested Scientific Contact Zone

Imperial Archaeology: The American Isthmus as Contested Scientific Contact Zone

(p.101) Imperial Archaeology: The American Isthmus as Contested Scientific Contact Zone
Surveying the American Tropics

Gesa Mackenthun

Liverpool University Press

This chapter examines a ‘tropical’ geographical site that has largely been forgotten by the historiography of America while being mythologized in popular history. Gesa Mackenthun argues that while Central America, due to its transitional political status and its important geopolitical position at the isthmus of the Western Hemisphere, was definitely a US interest zone in the period both before and after the Mexican War, the study of this (post-)colonial contact zone also exposes a convergence of various socio-economic and discursive strands which link Central America, and Yucatán in particular, to a much wider cultural sphere. The chapter discusses personal and textual relations between US American and European protagonists visiting Yucatán in the 1840s and 1850s, such as John Lloyd Stephens, George E. Squier, and the French aristocrat Arthur de Morelet. It shows that the discursive field was characterized by antagonistic attitudes toward nature and indigenous culture, including the ideological ‘uses’ of the indigenous past. While sharing the volume's attention to an extended sense of the “tropics” as a geopolitical region, it suggests broadening our understanding in regarding Mesoamerica as a global center of various interests, as well as one of the engines of the emergence of institutionalized geography and archaeology.

Keywords:   Archaeology, Central America, Alexander von Humboldt, Central American isthmus, Arthur de Morelet, George Ephraim Squier, John Lloyd Stephens, Yucatán

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