Disciplinary Conquest
From 1900 to 1945, well before the consolidation of area studies, U.S. scholars
in the humanities and the social sciences delineated the contours of a recently
“rediscovered” land: South America. Their publications provided comprehen-
sive and empirically informed visions of the subcontinent that contributed to the
United States’ diplomatic rapprochement with the region. Parallel to business
prospectors, Pan-­American enthusiasts, religious missionaries, and travelers, a
group of U.S. scholars came to the region in search of new data and fresh, direct
observations to confirm or reject prior generalizations and ste­reo­types. Little
by little, their authoritative repre­sen­ta­tions began to fill the previous vacuum
of knowledge, said to represent a major obstacle for more intense economic
relations between the two Americas. Enhanced knowledge, the argument ran,
would generate greater mutual trust in inter-­ A merican relations. These acts of
knowing laid the foundations for a substantial apparatus of knowledge in the
ser­vice of hemispherism.
I call these scholarly engagements “disciplinary interventions”: disciplin-
ary because they ­were rooted in scientific disciplines; interventions because
they fostered U.S. economic, technological, and cultural hegemony in the
region. In a way, these adventures in disciplinary knowledge constituted a
continuation of U.S. hemispheric diplomacy through other means. In a region
free from direct U.S. military and po­liti­cal intervention, information gathering
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