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Spanish lake

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Spate, O. H. K.

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Australian National University Press

Abstract

This book is written in the spirit of Lucien Febvre’s words introducing the Chaunus’ great work Seville et l'Atlantique: ‘these studies of maritime relations, these reconstructions of the histories of the Oceans considered as real entities, historical personalities, primary factors in the collective efforts of men. . . I have no illusions that in this to some extent impressionistic outline I can measure up to that monumental work; but then I may perhaps claim the indulgence due to the pioneer por mares nunca dantes navigados, through never-navigated seas. Many sectors of my theme have been illuminated by scholars of the first order; little attempt has been made to see the Pacific as a real entity, as a whole over space and through time. The aim of my work, of which this is a first instalment, is to seek to explicate the process by which the greatest blank on the map became a nexus of global commercial and strategic relations. From the very beginning, the implications of Magellan’s voyage made the Ocean a theatre of power conflict. For this reason, some attention must be given to the political background in Europe, and more to the economic background of Spanish America, an extrusion of European polity which was naturally in far closer contact with the Ocean than was the metropolis; or rather perhaps the fulcrum by which, in this first or Iberian phase, Europe extended its power in the opposite half of the globe. This is a history of the Pacific, not of the Pacific peoples, a difference which I have sought elsewhere to explain; as such it may seem, in this age, somewhat Eurocentric. But then there was not, and could not be, any concept ‘Pacific’ until the limits and lineaments of the Ocean were set: and this was undeniably the work of Europeans. To say this is in no way to disparage the achievements not only of Aztecs and Incas, Chinese and Japanese, but of the peoples whose skill and daring found and peopled the remote and scattered islands of Oceania. Of this great diaspora, more will be said in a later volume; even in this one, in an Asian context the Iberians must appear less than the unchallenged Conquistadores that they were depicted in the historiography of imperialism; but no less human and heroic for that. The fact remains that until our own day the Pacific was basically a Euro-American creation, though built on an indigenous substructure. This is changing, and not before time, and in that change I may say pars minima fui. The change will demand a new historiography, which is indeed in hand; for this, despite inclination, I have not the skills, and my work will perhaps appear a requiem for an era of historiography, which yet must serve as a basis for that which is to come. If it would take a lifetime to visit all the shores and islands of the Pacific, one sometimes feels that it would take nine lives to master fully the vasty literature of the deep. All that the explorer can do is to mark some positions and take some soundings; and if mine are not a close net like that of Chaunus’ Atlantic charting, I may at least hope that I have run my lines with enough intelligence to bring out the main lineaments of the Ocean. The work is inevitably based on secondary sources and on printed collections of primary and sub-primary sources; with all respect for archival historians, whose work is often fundamental, not all that is found outside archives is insignificant, and not all that is found in MSS. really matters. I can only say that I have tried to arrive at a synthesis drawn from reputable authorities. I have no doubt at all that specialists will find superficialities and errors in my treatment of some of the multitudinous topics which a study of this scope and scale involves. But this is the occupational hazard of playing the generalist game, and I have also no doubt that it is a game well worth playing, as an effort to see the theme as a whole and not as cut up into discrete sectors; and it is great fun to play—nor is a feeling for fun, that neglected factor in human affairs, incompatible with serious intent. As for the skill and success with which I have played the game, that is of course altogether another matter. I have written elsewhere at more length on the methodological and even ethical problems involved in such work; and on these papers I would rest my case.* In the last resort, one can always console oneself with the noble apologia for unavoidable error, and the canons of criticism there implied, with which Samuel Johnson closed the Preface to his English Dictionary. How much the execution of such a work falls short of his ideal, only its author can truly know; he alone also knows both its drudgeries and its delights. The drudgeries have been lightened, the delights immeasurably enhanced, by the constant loving kindness of my wife.

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Book

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