An Aqueous Territory: Sailor Geographies and New Granada's Transimperial Greater Caribbean World.

Author:Hickman, John
Position:LATIN AMERICA - Book review

Bassi, Ernesto. An Aqueous Territory: Sailor Geographies and New Granada's Transimperial Greater Caribbean World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.

The possibility of alternative histories beckon in this exploration of the world views of the people living around the rim of the southern Caribbean Sea in late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In six chapters, Ernest Bassi, an assistant professor of history at Cornell University, investigates the range of geopolitical and geo-economic perspectives of ordinary sailors and their captains, of the cosmopolitan and the parochial, of republican revolutionaries and monarchist loyalists, and of anti-racist and racist state builders. The result is an interesting tour d'horizon of the conceptual and material worlds of the inhabitants of Spanish colonial New Granada and its independent successor states. What is revealed is the unrealized potential for a markedly different, much more Caribbean and much less Andean, trajectory for the political development of the region that now encompasses Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela.

Chapter 1 details the scale of trans-imperial and often illicit trade between New Granada and the larger non-Spanish speaking world of the Atlantic. British, American, French, Dutch, and Danish ships arriving with manufactured goods and provisions undermined the mercantilism that Spain sought to impose on New Granada. British colonial Jamaica in particular benefitted from the sometimes licit, sometimes illicit, trade in commodities not just with Cartagena, but also with many minor and hidden ports along the coast.

Chapter 2 describes the crucial role played by the officers of Spanish merchant ships and ordinary sailors on board insurgent corsairs [pirates] in the flow of information about events across the Caribbean. In keeping with the author's interest in unrealized possibilities, special attention is paid to the ambiguous political loyalties of ordinary sailors, revealed in records of interrogations, that to some degree they lacked a "territorially grounded sense of belonging" and instead felt that they belonged to a "transimperial Greater Caribbean" (65). The author notes the distrust of officers for their foreign and non-European ordinary sailors. Fear of mutiny was suffused with xenophobia and racism. While navies preferred to recruit sailors from among either their own nationals or their own colonial subjects, the crew lists of British ships show that it was common...

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