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 ste reotypes. Little
by little, their authoritative repre sentations 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- American relations. These acts of
knowing laid the foundations for a substantial apparatus of knowledge in the
ser vice 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 po litical intervention, information gathering
Previous Page Next Page