The science of nation building: A history of geographic sciences in Colombia, 1821--1921

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Steve Stein - Committee Chair


This study argues that the development of geographic sciences can and should be understood as inextricably intertwined in processes of state formation in Colombia from independence until 1921, the year Panama's independence was finally recognized by all interested parties.At first, a close-knit group of criollo intellectuals re-formulated existing colonial-era geographies via the national press, children's geography primers, and atlases to transmit an image of a united and independent Republic of Colombia. The Republic fragmented in 1830, belying the unity of their images. From 1830-1859, New Granada political leaders, worried about the state's economic and political weaknesses, believed geographic sciences would strengthen the state vis-a-vis deeply entrenched colonial-era corporate entities such as the Church and Indigenous resguardos. The national government deployed the Comision Corografica, a mapping expedition that turned disparate inhabited spaces into intelligible places the government could categorize, compare, and stake claims on. By the 1870s, a Colombian secular public school system popularized the Comision's geographic knowledge as it centralized education within a primarily federalized national state. The study ends by examining how the projected need for railroads from the 1870s-1920s influenced the institutionalization of geographic sciences as part of Colombia's desire to engage with an international community.


History, Latin American; Geography

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