Upcoming Presentation at AAG: Journeys of Empire: the Robertson brothers' Letters on Paraguay

I have the privilege of being on a fascinating panel entitled: "Truth, Authorship and Credibility in Travellers' Narratives" at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Friday, April 15, 2011 in Seattle at 10am.

I've called my paper:
Journeys of Empire: the Robertson brothers' Letters on Paraguay

If you just happen to be in town, please do stop by. Here's the abstract:

This paper traces the two voyages of the Robertson brothers: their early 19th century foray into Paraguay and the journey of their Letters on Paraguay, published two decades later. It does more than just render an eyewitness account by the first British visitors to the republic; it allows us to explore how knowledge of the periphery is received at the center of empire. I demonstrate how Letters, and the evocatively named third volume, Francia's Reign of Terror, shaped how Paraguay was perceived in the English-speaking world.

John arrived in 1806 as revolution engulfed the Iberian colonies and was later joined by William, making, losing, and regaining their fortune through trade. The Letters recounting these experiences read as more than ethnography—they describe the wealth of Paraguay and the rise of its first ruler, Gaspar de Francia. The Letters framed Paraguay as a tropical dictatorship in need of liberation and as a fabled land of plenty awaiting investment, leading to justifications for the (British-funded) War of the Triple Alliance (1865-1870) and the ensuing sell-off of Paraguayan property. This paper is based on a close reading of the Letters, English-language newspapers and trade journals, and other contemporary secondary literature against a backdrop of archival and ethnographic work in Paraguay. The Letters and their reception speak to questions of how depictions of tyranny, imaginaries of exotic riches, and geographical knowledge intersect.

For more on John and William Parish Robertson, check out their books on google books: here and here and here.

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