Topics on Preservation Series.
The Library of Congress

GEOPAM (Geopolitica Americana de los siglos XVI-XIX)

The History of a Periphery:
Spanish Colonial Cartography from Colombia’s Pacific Lowlands

Event date
March 18, 2024 at 2:00 pm Central Time on Zoom


During the late Spanish colonial period, the Pacific Lowlands, also called the Greater Chocó, was famed for its rich placer deposits. Gold mined here was central to New Granada’s economy, yet this Pacific frontier (in today’s Colombia) was considered the “periphery of the periphery.” Infamous for its fierce, unconquered Indigenous inhabitants and its brutal tropical climate, it was an area rarely visited by Spanish administrators, engineers, or topographers. As a result, it seldom appeared in detail on printed maps of the period. In this talk, Juliet Wiersema will share recent research on little-known manuscript cartography from this under-examined corner of the Spanish empire. By interrogating these handmade maps and identifying the arguments they make, she unearths untold narratives about ephemeral settlements, African adaptation and autonomy, Indigenous strategies of resistance, and tenuous colonialisms on the margins of a beleaguered viceroyalty. These maps, she argues, shed light on how a “periphery” was imagined and projected, largely for political or economic reasons.