Masters of All They Surveyed: Exploration, Geography, and a British el Dorado

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Chronicling the British pursuit of the legendary El Dorado, Masters of All They Surveyed tells the fascinating story of geography, cartography, and scientific exploration in Britain's unique South American colony, Guyana. How did nineteenth-century Europeans turn areas they called terra incognita into bounded colonial territories? How did a tenderfooted gentleman, predisposed to seasickness (and unable to swim), make his way up churning rivers into thick jungle, arid savanna, and forbidding mountain ranges, survive for the better part of a decade, and emerge with a map? What did that map mean?

In answering these questions, D. Graham Burnett brings to light the work of several such explorers, particularly Sir Robert H. Schomburgk, the man who claimed to be the first to reach the site of Ralegh's El Dorado. Commissioned by the Royal Geographical Society, and later by the British Crown, Schomburgk explored and mapped regions in modern Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana, always in close contact with Amerindian communities. Drawing heavily on the maps, reports, and letters that Schomburgk sent back to England, and especially on the luxuriant images of survey landmarks in his Twelve Views in the Interior of Guiana (reproduced in color in this book), Burnett shows how a vast network of traverse surveys, illustrations, and travel narratives not only laid out the official boundaries of British Guiana but also marked out a symbolic landscape that fired the British imperial imagination.

Engagingly written and beautifully illustrated, Masters of All They Surveyed will interest anyone who wants to understand the histories of colonialism and science.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The history of the formation of the current country of Guyana is little known. Burnett (fellow, Ctr. for Scholars and Writers, NYPL) has written a fascinating book on the early period of this former British colony in northern South America. Burnett, who aimed to write a study on the history of science, examines the history of mapmaking and geography as it relates to the discovery and formation of the British Empire in this part of the Americas. Focusing on mid-1800s explorer Sir Robert H. Schomburgk, who under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society explored and mapped a region that is now part of Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana, Burnett shows that the activities of Schomburgk and other explorers essentially determined the official boundaries of what became British Guiana. This well-written and easy-to-follow study will be of value to collections on Latin America, the British Isles, and travel. Mark L. Grover, Brigham Young Univ., Pleasant Grove, UT Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226081205
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 314
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

D. Graham Burnett is an assistant professor in the Honors College at the University of Oklahoma.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi
1 Geography, Exploration, Colonial Territory: An Introduction 1
Point of Departure 1
The Lay of the Scholarly Land 5
A Sketch of the Route 13
The Destination: A Little Background on British Guiana 17
2 Myths and Maps: Making Explorers and Empires 25
Mythical Empire and Interior Exploration 1: Finding El Dorado 25
Mythical Empire and Interior Exploration 2: Reaching El Dorado 33
Remapping and the Making of Explorers 37
Remapping and the Making of Territory 46
The Other Mythical Empire: Mahanarva 54
Epilogue: The Ambivalence of Myth and Metalepsis 60
3 Traversing Terra Incognita: Getting There and Making Maps 67
Elusive Incognitae 67
Local Reorientation and Disorientation 71
Mapping Terra Incognita: The Traverse and Its Weaknesses 84
Fixed Points 1 The Humboldtian Tradition 92
Fixed Points 2 Discipline and Navigation 99
Fixed Points 3 Landmark, Image, Enclosure 109
4 Marks on the Land: Landmarks, Aesthetics, and the Image of the Colony 119
Views in Context: Writing the Journey 119
Views and Strategies of Imperial Visibility 126
Pictorial Conventions and Landmark Depictions 131
Schomburgk, Bentley, and the Aesthetic Saturation of Sites 133
Aesthetic Circuits 145
From Landmark to Icon 148
Epilogue: Widespread Views 161
5 Marks of Passage: Landmarks and the Practice of Geographical Exploration 167
Re-viewed 167
Tracks of Passage 169
Landmarks and Methexis 174
Amerindian Negotiations 181
Icarian Anxieties: The Fall as Landmark 189
Pictorial Conventions and Exploratory Subversions 194
Epilogue: Place and Erasure 197
6 Boundaries: The Beginnings of the Ends 199
Disputed Boundaries/Disputed Man 199
Delimitation, Demarcation, "Deconstruction"? 202
Consummatio, Landmarks, and the "Natural" Boundary 208
Traversing the Boundary: The Surpassing Problem 214
Narrative Part 1 Northwest 216
Narrative Part 2 Southwest 228
Narrative Part 3 East 242
Epilogue: The Wake of the Boundary 253
7 Conclusion: History, Geography, Nation 255
Up to This Point 255
And Over the Line 257
Epigram 265
Bibliography 267
Index 285
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