According to Gerbi's classical study, the “dispute of the New World” entered a new phase in the 1780s, one marked by voices coming from the Americas. New questions were then raised about the writing of history, its method, scope and proofs. This essay pursues a dual-track enquiry, confronting the History of America (1777) by the Presbyterian minister William Robertson, a leading figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, with the Storia antica del Messico (1780–81) by the Mexican exiled Jesuit Francisco Javier Clavijero. The two works, one written from the centre of the world's commercial expansion, the other from the Pontifical States, were engaged in a sophisticated dialogue, which yields two alternative, competing conceptions of history and of humankind. To Robertson's philosophical history, which developed from a long-distance perspective, characteristic of Enlightenment, Clavijero responded by reassessing the Jesuit and antiquarian tradition, based on closeness, local expertise and direct observation.
1 Gerbi, Antonello, The Dispute of the New World: The History of a Polemic, 1750–1900, trans. Moyle, Jeremy (Pittsburgh, 1973; first published 1955).
2 Hartog, François, Régimes d’historicité: Présentisme et expériences du temps (Paris, 2002); Hartog, Evidence de l’histoire: Ce que voient les historiens (Paris, 2005).
3 Sahlins, Marshall, How “Natives” Think: About Captain Cook, For Example (Chicago, 1995).
4 I borrow the expression from Jouhaud, Christian, Mazarinades: La fronde des mots (1985) (Paris, 2009).
5 Clavigero, Francesco Saverio, Storia antica del Messico cavata da’ migliori storici Spagnuoli, e da’ manoscriti, e dalle pitture antiche degl’Indiani, 2 vols. (Cesena, 1780–81). For Clavijero's biography, see Ronan, Charles E., Francisco Javier Clavigero, S.J. (1731–1787), Figure of the Mexican Enlightenment: His Life and Works (Rome and Chicago, 1977).
6 Clavigero, The History of Mexico: Collected from Spanish and Mexican Historians, from Manuscripts, and Ancient Paintings of the Indians . . . Translated from the Original Italian, by Charles Cullen, Esq., 2 vols. (London, 1787)—reprinted in London in 1807, in Philadelphia in 1804 and in 1817, and in Richmond, Virginia in 1806. The English version was also the basis for a German translation which appeared in Leipzig in 1790. The first Spanish edition, translated from the Italian by José Joaquín de Mora, was published in London, at R. Ackerman's publishing house, in 1826. Only in 1945 was the original Spanish text by Clavijero published in Mexico, in an edition established by Mariano Cuevas.
7 Robertson, William, The History of America (1777), 5th edn, 3 vols. (London, 1788).
8 Sebastiani, Silvia, “L’Amérique des Lumières et la hiérarchie des races: Disputes sur l’écriture de l’histoire dans l’Encyclopaedia Britannica (1768–1788)”, Annales HSS, 67/2 (2012), 327–61.
9 See Momigliano, Arnaldo, Studies in Historiography (London, 1966); Phillips, Mark Salber, “Reconsideration on History and Antiquarianism: Arnaldo Momigliano and the Historiography of Eighteenth-Century Britain”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 57 (1996), 297–316; Phillips, , Society and Sentiment: Genres of Historical Writing in Britain, 1740–1820 (Princeton, 2000); Kidd, Colin, Subverting Scotland's Past: Scottish Whig Historians and the Creation of an Anglo-British Identity 1689–1830 (Cambridge, 1994).
10 For his Charles V, Robertson was paid around four thousand pounds, a sum never given before for a historical work. See Sher, Richard B., The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland and America (Chicago, 2006), 214.
11 See, among others, Batllori, Miguel, La cultura hispano-italiana de los Jesuitas expulsos: españoles–hispanoamericanos–filipinos, 1767–1814 (Madrid, 1966); Segurado, Eva María St Clair, Expulsión y exilio de la provincia jesuita Mexicana (1767–1820) (San Vicente del Raspeig, 2005); Valle, Ivonne del, Escribiendo desde los márgenes: Colonialismo y jesuitas en el siglo XVIII (México, 2009).
12 Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge, How to Write the History of the New World: Histories, Epistemologies, and Identities in the Eighteenth-century Atlantic World (Stanford, 2001).
13 Romano, Antonella, ed., Rome et la science moderne entre Renaissance et Lumières (Rome, 2008); see especially Romano's “Introduction” and “Conclusion”.
14 The names of the Jesuits writing about America include Giovanni Ignacio Molina on Chile; Juan de Velasco, José Jolís and José Manuel Peramás on Quito, Paraguay and Rio de la Plata; Filippo Salvatore Gilij on Orinoco.
15 Among a very abundant literature see Cárcel, Ricardo García, La leyenda negra: Historia y opinión (Madrid, 1998); Greer, Margaret R., Mignolo, Walter D. and Quilligan, Maureen, eds., Rereading the Black Legend: The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissance Empires (Chicago, 2008).
16 Rabasa, José, Sato, Masayuki, Tortarolo, Edoardo and Woolf, Daniel, eds., The Oxford History of Historical Writing, vol. 3, 1400–1800 (Oxford, 2012).
17 Meek, Ronald L., Social Science and Ignoble Savage (Cambridge, 1976).
18 Smith, Adam took the hypothetical scenario of a desert island, in order to outline the historical progress, in his Lectures on Jurisprudence, ed. Meek, R. L., Raphael, D. D. and Stein, P. G. (Oxford, 1978), 14–16.
19 Koselleck, Reinhart, “‘Space of Experience’ and ‘Horizon of Expectation’: Two Historical Categories”, in Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (1979), trans. Keith Tribe (New York, 2004), 267–88; Koselleck, “Historia Magistra Vitae: The Dissolution of the Topos into the Perspective of a Modernized Historical Process”, in ibid., 21–38; Hartog, Evidence de l’histoire, 170.
20 Voltaire, Traité de métaphysique (1734), in Voltaire, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Louis Moland, 52 vols. (Paris, 1877–85), 22: 192. Written in the 1730s but not published until the nineteenth century, the Traité aimed at pursuing the impact of Newtonianism on the science of man. The expedient of the extraterrestrial at the outset of the work was instrumental for showing, as evidence, the polygenetic origins of humankind. Voltaire employed again the image of extraterrestrials descending on the Earth in his 1752 short story Micromégas.
21 Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques, Plan d’un ouvrage sur la géographie politique, in Oeuvres de Turgot et documents le concernant, ed. Schelle, Gustave, 6 vols. (Paris, 1913–23), 1: 258–9.
22 On the definition of distance as “a range of experience” see Phillips, Mark S., “Distance and Historical Representation”, History Workshop Journal, 57 (2004), 123–41; Phillips, , On Historical Distance (New Haven, 2013).
23 Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence, 14–6.
24 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes par Jean Jacques Rousseau, citoyen de Genève (1755), in Oeuvres complètes, ed. Gagnebin, B. and Raymond, M., 5 vols. (Paris, 1959–95), 3: 132–3; Lévi-Strauss, Claude, “Jean-Jacques Rousseau, fondateur des sciences de l’homme”, in Baud-Bovy, S.et al., eds., Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Neuchâtel, 1962), 239–48; Lévi-Strauss, , Le totémisme aujourd’hui (Paris, 1962). For an interesting comment, see François Hartog, “Le regard éloigné: Lévi-Strauss et l’histoire”, in Hartog, Evidence de l’histoire, 175–90.
25 “When wishing to study men one has to look close up; but to study man one must learn to cast one's gaze afar: one must first observe the differences in order to discover the properties.” Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Essai sur l’origine des langues, ed. Kremer-Marietti, Angèle (Paris, 1974), 192–4.
26 Sebastiani, Silvia, The Scottish Enlightenment: Race, Gender and the Limits of Progress (New York, 2013).
27 As Burke, Edmund wrote in a now famous letter to Robertson on 9 June 1777. See The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, vol. 3, ed. Guttridge, George H. (Cambridge, 1961), 351.
28 Brown, Stewart J., ed., William Robertson and the Expansion of Empire (Cambridge, 1997); O’Brien, Karen, Narratives of Enlightenment: Cosmopolitan History from Voltaire to Gibbon (Cambridge, 1997), 93–166; Pocock, John G. A., Barbarism and Religion, vol. 4, Barbarians, Savages and Empires (Cambridge, 2005), 157–204.
29 Robertson's plan of writing about British America was in fact interrupted by the explosion of the Revolution.
30 Hartog, Evidence de l’histoire, 137.
31 See Hamowy, Ronald, The Scottish Enlightenment and the Theory of Spontaneous Order (Carbondale, IL, 1987); Francesconi, Daniele, L’età della storia: Linguaggi storiografici dell’Illuminismo scozzese (Bologna, 2003); Smith, Craig, “The Scottish Enlightenment, Unintended Consequences and the Science of Man”, Journal of Scottish Philosophy, 7 (2009), 9–28.
32 Robertson, History of America, Book IV, 2: 52.
33 Hudson, Nicholas, “From ‘Nation’ to ‘Race’: The Origin of Racial Classification in Eighteenth-century Thought”, Eighteenth-century Studies, 29 (1996), 247–64.
34 Hume, David, The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688 (1754–62), vol. 3, ed. Todd, William B. (Indianapolis, 1983).
35 Phillips, “Distance and Historical Representation”, 131; Phillips, “Relocating Inwardness: Historical Distance and the Transition from Enlightenment to Romantic Historiography”, Proceedings of the Modern Languages Association, 118 (2003), 436–9.
36 Robertson, William, The History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V: With a View of the Progress of Civil Society in Europe from the Subversion of the Roman Empire to the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century, 3 vols. (London, 1769), 1: 21–2, emphasis added.
37 Ibid., 123.
38 The “alphabetic writing” and the “invention of print” respectively marked the third and eighth epochs of Condorcet's Tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain, for which see the critical edition by J.-P. Schandeler and P. Crépel (Paris, 2004).
39 Robertson, William, History of Scotland, 2 vols. (London, 1759), 1: 1–2; Robertson, , An Historical Disquisition concerning the Knowledge which the Ancients had of India (London, 1791), 1–2.
40 Mckenzie, Daniel F., Oral Culture, Literacy and Print in Early New Zealand: The Treaty of Waitangi (Wellington, 1985); Mckenzie, , Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (London, 1986).
41 de Certeau, Michel, L’écriture de l’histoire (Paris, 1980), “Préface”. See also Goodie, Jack, Domestication of the Savage Mind (Cambridge, 1977); Goodie, , The Logic of Writing and the Organisation of Society (Cambridge, 1986).
42 Robertson, History of America, Book VII, 3: 177–83, 180, 183, emphasis in the original. Robertson refers to William Warburton's The Divine Legation of Moses (1738–41) as a guide for a natural history of the forms of writing.
43 Brown, Stewart J., “An Eighteenth-Century Historian on the Amerindians: Culture, Colonialism and Christianity in William Robertson's History of America”, Studies in World Christianity, 2 (1996), 204–22.
44 In the Preface to his On Historical Distance Phillips refers to these four categories of distance “in terms of modes of understanding or conceptualization”, while distinguishing them from “distancing” or “distantiation”, which only designates “movements towards positions that are comparatively remote or detached”.
45 Clavijero, Storia antica del Messico, iii–vii.
46 Ibid., xxvii–xxviii.
47 See Gerbi, The Dispute of the New World, 233 ff.
48 Dissertations on the Land, the Animals, and the Inhabitants of Mexico: In which The Ancient History of that Country is confirmed, many Points of Natural History illustrated, and numerous Errors refuted, which have been published concerning America by some celebrated modern Authors.
49 Cañizares, How to Write the History of the New World, 63.
50 See, among others, Diogo Ramada Curto, ed., The Jesuits and Cultural Intermediacy in Early Modern World, Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 74/147 (2005); de Castelnau-L’Éstoile, Charlotteet al., eds., Missions d’évangélisation et circulation des savoirs: XVIe–XVIIIe siècle (Madrid, 2011).
51 Robertson, History of America, Book VII, 3: 183–4 n.
52 Ibid., 157–8 n. See also Note XXVI, 384–90.
53 Robertson to Lord Elliock, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, MS, 1036, f. 106; see Black, Jeremy, “The Enlightenment Historian at Work: The Researches of William Robertson”, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 65 (1988), 251–60.
54 Robertson, History of America, 1: xviii–xix, emphasis added. In Robertson's classification of sources the works by the Franciscan missionary Juan de Torquemada's Monarchia Indiana (1615) and the collector of Mexican codices and paintings Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci were considered as the less consistent, precisely because they pretended to give a statute of reliability to pictograms. See Brading, David A., The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots and the Liberal State, 1492–1867 (Cambridge, 1991), 432–41, 455.
55 Robertson, History of America, 1: xvii.
56 See especially Momigliano, “Ancient History and the Antiquarian” (1950); “Gibbon's Contribution to Historical Method” (1954); “Historiography on Written Tradition and Historiography on Oral Tradition” (1961), in Studies in Historiography.
57 Cullen, Preface to Clavijero, History of Mexico, 1: v.
58 Monthly Review, 76 (1787), 633–40. The same review also appeared in the Scots Magazine, 49 (1787), 446–9 and 548–51.
59 The European Magazine, and London Review, 12 (1787), 16–8; see also 125–9.
60 The English Review, or, An Abstract of English and Foreign Literature, 9 (1787), 401–10; 10 (1787), 170–82; 11 (1787), 176–87.
61 Monthly Review, 65 (1781), 462–4.
62 See especially Barton, Benjamin Smith, Observations on Some Parts of Natural History: To Which is Prefixed an Account of Several Remarkable Vestiges of an Ancient Date, Which Have Been Discovered in Different Parts of North America: Part I (London, 1787); Barton, , New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America (Philadelphia, 1797). In his annotations of the American edition of John Pinkerton's Modern Geography (which first appeared in London in 1802), Barton also defended Clavijero and the reliability of Mexican paintings as historical sources against Pinkerton's attacks: Modern Geography: A Description of the Empires, Kingdoms, States, and Colonies . . . The article America, corrected and considerably enlarged, by Dr. Barton, of Philadelphia, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1804), 2: 457. See also Burton's correspondence in Ewan, Joseph and Ewan, Nesta Dunn, Benjamin Smith Barton: Naturalist and Physician in Jeffersonian America (St Louis, 2007), 253–7.
63 For details on the failure to publish Robertson's and Clavijero's Spanish translations see respectively Humphreys, Robert A., “William Robertson and His History of America” (1954), in Humphreys, Tradition and Revolt in Latin America and Other Essays (New York, 1969), 34–6; and Ronan, Charles E., “Clavigero: The Fate of a Manuscript”, The Americas, 27/2 (1970), 113–36.
64 Moreno, Roberto, “Las notas de Alzate a la Historia antigua de Clavijero”, Estudios de cultura nahuatl, 10 (1972), 359–92, with the notes of Books VI and VII in Annex; Moreno, “Las notas de Alzate a la Historia Antigua de Clavijero (Addenda)”, Estudios de cultura nahuatl, 12 (1976), 85–120, with the notes of Books I and II in Annex. See also Gabriela Goldin Marcovich, “La circulation des savoirs entre l’Europe et la nouvelle Espagne au XVIIIe siècle. Les gazettes de José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez” (unpublished Master 2, EHESS, Paris, 2011–12).
65 Goodie, Jack, The Theft of History (Cambridge, 2006).
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