University of Pennsylvania Students Visit Princeton and Dive into Amazonian Cartographies

Feb. 9, 2024

On Friday, February 9, 2024, students enrolled in “Forest Histories: The Architectures of Amazonia,” a graduate course led by Professor Vanessa Grossman *18 at the University of Pennsylvania, visited Princeton for a session on “Cartographies of the Forest” led by Brazil LAB Associate Research Scholar Miqueias Mugge. The group toured Firestone Library's Special Collections together with Fernando Acosta-Rodríguez, the Librarian for Latin American Studies, Latino Studies, and Iberian Peninsular Studies.

The interdisciplinary seminar explores the histories of the various agencies and practices that have inquired into and shaped the Amazon rainforest. The session with Mugge and Acosta-Rodríguez at Firestone focused on cartography and science in the making of representations of Amazonia published in Europe between the 16th and 19th centuries. In his lecture, Mugge highlighted the role of Indigenous and local agents in co-producing colonial maps and written accounts, and how the exchange of knowledge between explorers and knowledge brokers underwent a process of silencing and erasure. “Maps like the ones we are seeing today are dynamic narrative and historical artifacts. For their creation, Indigenous knowledges were crucial, being adapted, transformed, and translated,” said Mugge.

A unique artifact caught the attention of the group: an extremely long map produced by Robert Hepburn, an American engineer and Princeton graduate (class of 1871), while he was working on the Madeira-Mamoré Railway construction in western Amazonia. “This map is unique in its format and purpose: its author traveled with the artifact up and down the Madeira River, constantly adding new information about the seasonal changes in the course of the river, as well as notes on the presence of Indigenous populations in the area,” highlighted Mugge.

After a lively discussion with the class, Mugge invited them to return to Princeton to visit the exhibition “Denilson Baniwa: Under the Skin of History,” which he is co-curating (with Jun Nakamura and Carlos Fausto), organized by the Brazil LAB in conjunction with the Department of Anthropology and the Princeton University Art Museum.