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NOTHING LIES OUTSIDE THE MAP: Varnhagen, Jaime Cortesão and the Brazilian Representations of the Tordesillas Meridian

























Fifty years after Derrida’s annus mirabilis (the publication of Writing and Difference, Speech and Phenomena, and Of Grammatology in 1967) we can still remember Brian Harley’s affirmation in Deconstructing the Map: “I do not accept some of the more extreme positions attributed to Derrida [...] it would be unacceptable for a social history of cartography that to adopt the view that nothing lies outside the text”. However, if we note that what Harley called “Derrida’s notion of the rethoricity” was not a defense of indeterminacy but of undecidability, and that the famous phrase “nothing lies outside the text” should be comprehended as “there is nothing outside the context”, could we realign Brian Harley’s ideas on a post-structuralist trail?
Perhaps we need to rethink Harley’s rejection of the neutrality of maps to favor an approach in which the representational value of the maps is not inquired in terms of the intentions of the cartographers but on the investigation of the logics of the cartographic transformation and its relation with the politics and the society.
In this sense, for example, cartographic concepts such as the meridians can govern the cartographic representations, but despite their mathematical value the interpretation of these representations could be transformed, it was the case of Tordesillas meridian in Brazilian maps.
In 1854 was published História Geral do Brazil, the first compendium of Brazilian history, written by Francisco Varnhagen, a historian and diplomat. At the beginning of the book we can find a map in which the Tordesillas meridian presents the division of the world between Portugal and Castella “as conceived by the Pope”. This map is a globular projection centered in the Tordesillas meridian, probably the only of its kind, and the first Brazilian map where the meridian was drawn at the longitude that is actually depicted in the school books (48º 35’ W).
One hundred years later, in 1959, was published the first edition of Atlas Histórico Escolar, a school atlas that sold more than one million copies and in which were presented contents and theses developed by Jaime Cortesão at the Ministry of Foreign Relations since the 40’s. At the very beginning of the Atlas a modern cartographic representation of Varnhagen’s meridian was paired with an old map to explains that the first was mathematically correct but nobody really knew where the Tordesillas meridian stands.
Each representation of the Meridian posed an aporia that can only be explained if we consider why cartography was metalogic to Brazilian historians and geographers and how their maps tried to answer the defies of their political and social metagames. This paper comprises a comparative analysis of História Geral do Brazil and Atlas Histórico Escolar maps to propose that the representational value of its Tordesillas maps can be evaluated in the terms of undecidability and metagame.