Professor Mark Thurner, who leads the Leverhulme Trust-supported LAGLOBAL international research network based at the Institute of Latin American Studies, talks about the project and its goals.

A wave of exciting research across the humanities, arts and sciences is radically changing our understanding of the global past and future of knowledge. In particular, the world region today known as ‘Latin America’ – and in the deeper past as the Iberian ‘New World’ or ‘Indias’ – was long held to be anathema to the story of knowledge and science. Indeed, it more properly belonged to ‘the history of ignorance.’

Today, leading scholars in the field know that it was absolutely central, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Latin America was key to the development of global knowledge and particular kinds of science. Unfortunately, much of this exciting recent research remains marginal to mainstream narratives and public understandings. Historically – and this is particularly the case in the UK, Europe and the US – in academic departments of history and history of science and medicine, Latin America is treated as a periphery, if at all.

The task of Latin America and the Global History of Knowledge (LAGLOBAL) research initiative is to bridge this yawning gap between specialist area studies knowledge and the academy and public at large, and to thereby change the shape of the field.

Given its position within the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS), the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) is particularly well positioned to lead LAGLOBAL’s ‘bridging’ mission given. As the UK’s national centre for advanced research in the humanities and related sciences, SAS provides an ecumenical umbrella otherwise rare in university settings, where area studies are often divorced from the wider pursuit of knowledge.

The task at hand requires a concerted effort among the leading scholars in the field.  Recognising that these experts are spread across the globe, ILAS has formed an international research network to unite them.

With generous funding from the Leverhulme Trust (2016–19), the LAGLOBAL network now includes the ILAS-based ‘hub’ and seven international ‘nodes’ or partners drawn from among the leading and most prestigious centres of Latin Americanist research in the world. The partners include: the University of St Andrews (Scotland); Instituto de Historia, CSIC (Spain); El Colegio de México (Mexico); Facultad Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (Ecuador); Casa de Oswaldo Cruz (Brazil); Brown University in Providence and the University of Texas at Austin (US).

LAGLOBAL comprises four working groups. The first focuses on history and anthropology. The New World is, we argue, actually at the cutting edge of new historical and anthropological knowledge. It produced a global revolution in thinking about the history of humanity.

We have a second group working on practices of collecting and then displaying and explaining collections to the public. This is another area in which the New World is actually a pioneer, since many people studying the New World could not make the journey. So, collecting and display became a very important technology for the transference and exchange of knowledge.

The third group leads on the history of medicine and nature. Again, ‘nature’ and ‘medicine’ are concepts and practices that in many cases were pioneered in the Americas: new cures, new animals and plants being discovered, new taxonomies emerging to describe them. The fourth group works on theory and method.

In its first year of existence, LAGLOBAL has quickly moved to establish itself as an active protagonist and global resource in the field, in part thanks to its SAS-based blog.

Last year LAGLOBAL sponsored two major international conferences and three workshops in London, Madrid and Lima, Peru, respectively. We also established a permanent seminar in Senate House. LAGLOBAL also launched a new book series at the International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association in Lima, entitled Routledge Studies in Global Latin America. Looking ahead, in 2017-2018 LAGLOBAL partners will host events in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Quito, Ecuador.

 

About Mark Thurner

Mark Thurner is professor of Latin American studies at the Institute of Latin American Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. He is also professor emeritus of history and anthropology at the University of Florida. His most recent book is History’s Peru: The Poetics of Colonial and Postcolonial Historiography.