LAGLOBAL is a new ILAS research initiative and global network that will coordinate and advance scholarship on a key set of border-crossing knowledge practices pioneered in Latin America. These practices typically trespassed or ‘crossed’ the scholastic, theological, disciplinary and methodological boundaries more likely to be enforced in early modern and modern Peninsular and European universities and academies, in effect making an uneasy virtue of an academic vice and anticipating current concerns with interdisciplinary work in the humanities and sciences.
In the New World, the relative scarcity of traditional historical sources deemed indispensable in Western Europe gave rise to fruitful empirical collaborations among chroniclers, theologians, antiquarians, collectors, cosmographers, natural philosophers, and early ethnologists. This same scarcity stimulated collecting and expeditions, while difficult conditions of storage and transport led many collectors and patrons to ‘preserve’ specimens in drawings, paper museums, encyclopedic maps, and books, thereby integrating collecting and display practices with the empirical demands and aesthetics of knowledge and empire, and increasing transoceanic traffic in papers, charts, and books. Similar developments characterized investigations of nature and the collecting of materia medica. In turn, the perceived inadequacy or armchair quality of Old World or European theory found its counter-discourse in ‘Indian,’ ‘Creole’ and ‘Mestizo’ critique, stimulating more traffic in ideas. Although rarely recognized by scholars today, this New World critique of Old World theory circulated in many forms, and was consumed not only in Europe but in Asia and Africa as well.
LAGLOBAL builds upon recent advances in the history of knowledge and carries those advances forward via area studies toward new global horizons. A growing body of research has moved beyond national and/or imperial ‘Western’ traditions and approaches to the history of science and philosophy to focus on shifting networks and flows of knowledge across a spectrum of agents and objects spread across the globe. Although invaluable in their own right, older ‘Western’ approaches tended to create false divisions between ‘Western’ and ‘Oriental’ and ‘Indigenous’ knowledge, thereby underplaying the connected histories of knowledge that were more evident in the New World and that are now increasingly seen to characterize the early modern and modern worlds. Furthermore, for historical reasons the UK academic community has tended to focus its ‘global’ research and debate on European expansion into and relations with Asia and Africa. UK-based research on the Americas is not insignificant but again for historical reasons a disproportionate amount of that research has focused on Anglophone or British America. UK academic research on Latin America is for the most part not an eventual result of past colonial relations but instead a deliberate response to the Cold War and/or Development Assistance Schemes, and it tends to be relatively underfunded. As a result of these trends, research on Latin America occupies a marginal position in UK academic debates. But the problem also lies with UK Latin American Studies, which too often approaches the region as a problem rather than a source of innovation and knowledge.
In an effort to make a virtue of the inherited limits of area studies and the history of science and knowledge in the UK, LAGLOBAL will generate a twenty-first century border-crossing knowledge practice, linking cutting-edge work in area studies with the global history of knowledge.
In summary, LAGLOBAL will push a global agenda from a multi-sited perspective made possible by connecting working groups via transatlantic nodes to ILAS’s existing UK network, thereby offering a model for how to advance area studies and the history of knowledge in a global age.