The Tropics of Empire: Why Columbus Sailed South to the Indies

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Overview

Everyone knows that in 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed west across the Atlantic,seeking a new route to the East. Few note, however, that Columbus's intention was also to sail south, to the tropics. In The Tropics of Empire, Nicolás Wey Gómez rewrites the geographical history of the discovery of the Americas, casting it as part of Europe's reawakening to the natural and human resources of the South. Wey Gómez shows that Columbus shared in a scientific and technical tradition that linked terrestrial latitude to the nature of places, and that he drew a highly consequential distinction between the higher, cooler latitudes of Mediterranean Europe and the globe's lower, hotter latitudes. The legacy of Columbus's assumptions, Wey Gómez contends, ranges from colonialism and slavery in the early Caribbean to the present divide between the industrializedNorth and the developing South. This distinction between North and South allowed Columbus to believe not only that he was heading toward the largest and richest lands on the globe but also that the people he would encounter there were bound to possess a nature (whether "childish" or"monstrous") that seemed to justify rendering them Europe's subjects or slaves. The political lessons Columbus drew from this distinction provided legitimacy to a process of territorial expansion that was increasingly being construed as the discovery of the vast and unexpectedly productive "torrid zone." The Tropics of Empire investigates the complicated nexus between place and colonialism in Columbus's invention of the American tropics. It tells the story of a culture intent on remaining the moral center of an expanding geography that was slowly relegating Europe to the northern fringe of the globe. Wey Gómez draws on sources that include official debates over Columbus's proposal to the Spanish crown, Columbus's own writings and annotations, and accounts by early biographers. The Tropics of Empire is illustrated by color reproductions of period maps that make vivid the geographical conceptions of Columbus and his contemporaries. Nicolás Wey Gómez is Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies at BrownUniversity.

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Editorial Reviews

<i>The European Legacy</i> - Clinton R. Long
This work is a significant milestone in the study of Christopher Columbus, his psyche, and the academic pursuit of history in general.
American Scientist - Neil Safier
[A] hefty and impressive study executed with erudition, skill and considerable insight... Those who believed, following the Columbus quincentennial, that there was little left to say about a Genoese sailor's extraordinary adventures overseas will now be convinced otherwise.
The Times Literary Supplement - Gabriel Paquette
The Tropics of Empire deserves to become a landmark in the study of the inaugural stirrings of European overseas expansion.
The New York Sun - Alfred W. Crosby
Mr. [Wey] Gómez's volume... offer[s] tremendous insight into the prevailing medieval understanding of the shape of the world Columbus encountered and absorbed.
From the Publisher

"Mr. [Wey] Gómez's volume... offer[s] tremendous insight into the prevailing medieval understanding of the shape of the world Columbus encountered and absorbed." Alfred W. Crosby The New
York Sun

The MIT Press

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Nicolás Wey Gómez is Professor of History at the California Institute of Technology.

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Table of Contents


List of Figures     xi
Preface     xiii
Acknowledgments     xvii
Introduction: Why Columbus Sailed South to the Indies     1
Machina Mundi: The Moral Authority of Place in the Early Transatlantic Encounter     59
Columbus and the Open Geography of the Ancients     107
The Meaning of India in Pre-Columbian Europe     159
From Place to Colonialism in the Aristotelian Tradition     229
En la Parte del Sol: Iberia's Invention of the Afro-Indian Tropics, 1434-1494     293
Between Cathay and a Hot Place: Reorienting the Asia-America Debate     335
The Tropics of Empire in Columbus's Diario     393
Notes     435
Bibliography     535
Index     569
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