Equator Imagined: Commemorating Geodesic Science in the Andes


LAC Burkhardt




For residence at the Institute of Latin American Studies at Columbia University during academic year 2017-2018


While Geodesy is an unusual branch of geographic science dedicated to measuring the shape of the Earth, in Ecuador every child knows the story of the Franco-Hispanic Geodesic Mission (1736-42), when an international group of scientists led by the Frenchman Charles Marie de La Condamine traveled to the Spanish colony to measure the arc of the equatorial meridian. This study considers the subsequent commemoration of this voyage through the elevation (and destruction) of pyramidal markers, Andean landscape paintings, a second French scientific mission redoing the 18th-century measurements, the development of modern tourist sites, and a counter-memorial tradition celebrating indigenous geodesic and astronomical knowledge.