Maps of the Caribbean coast in the late 18th century were crafted with political purpose but did not always represent the geopolitical reality in which residents lived.
In a new book, Ernesto Bassi traces the configuration of a geographic space he calls the “transimperial Greater Caribbean,” made up of sailors, traders, revolutionaries and indigenous peoples living a cross-border existence in which trade, information and people circulated, often with little regard for imperial regulations. As Bassi describes in “An Aqueous Territory: Sailor Geographies and New Granada’s Transimperial Greater Caribbean World,” it was a space that was simultaneously Spanish, British, French, Dutch, Danish, Anglo-American, African and indigenous.
“Political geographies are boxes that can force historians to ask the wrong questions and can limit the field of study,” says Bassi, assistant professor of history. “When you come to a project being fascinated by sailors and their mobility like I did, it immediately becomes obvious that you need to break free from this prison of ‘methodological nationalism.’”
Uncovering and understanding this region, says Bassi, is impossible if looked at through the exclusive lens of nation-states, empires or other conventional world-regionalization schemes. People’s lives transcended these geographical units, whose borders were far more porous than is typically perceived.
Few other places in the world were as geopolitically complex as the Caribbean in the transformative period of the mid-18th to mid-19th century, the span of Bassi’s book. Five European empires had claims in the region and many independent republics were forming. But despite war being a consistent element, sailors’ interactions across imperial borders were friendly and based on trade, says Bassi. Because sailors exchanged information and goods at so many ports, they drew less-mobile individuals into the transimperial milieu as well. See original story here.