Richard Francaviglia, Professor Emeritus
Title: Imagining the Atacama Desert
Through the analysis of maps and written narratives I will demonstrate how the Atacama Desert of South America was discovered, and then re-discovered, over nearly five centuries in a series of sequential phases. From about 1530 to 1700, “Atacama” designated a remote but strategic political province whose lack of population rather than desert climate was emphasized. After about 1700, however, the Atacama began to be identified as an arid region as a result of increasingly scientific mapping and exploration. In this transitional phase, the Atacama was part of a broader pattern in which the political mapping of empires was gradually supplemented by thematic physical or scientific mapmaking. In the third stage, which began in the mid-1830s, the Atacama Desert became linked to increasingly strong nationalist impulses and the rapidly growing power of international corporate developments in transportation and mineral extraction. In the fourth and current stage, which began about 1945, the Atacama began to be promoted and marketed as the quintessential desert worth experiencing for its uniqueness — something early explorers would have found incomprehensible. Past, present, and future, the Atacama reveals much about how places are discovered, and then re-discovered, through time.
Please feel free to invite students to attend this talk.
We look forward to seeing you there.
Doreen Simonsen and Daniel Rouslin
Faculty Colloquium Coordinators