Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met

Border Making in Eighteenth-Century South America

By Jeffrey Alan Erbig Jr.

280 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 24 halftones, 13 maps, 6 tables

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5504-8
    Published: April 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5503-1
    Published: April 2020
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5505-5
    Published: March 2020

David J. Weber Series in the New Borderlands History

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Awards & distinctions

Honorable Mention, Alfred B. Thomas Book Award, Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies

During the late eighteenth century, Portugal and Spain sent joint mapping expeditions to draw a nearly 10,000-mile border between Brazil and Spanish South America. These boundary commissions were the largest ever sent to the Americas and coincided with broader imperial reforms enacted throughout the hemisphere. Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met considers what these efforts meant to Indigenous peoples whose lands the border crossed. Moving beyond common frameworks that assess mapped borders strictly via colonial law or Native sovereignty, it examines the interplay between imperial and Indigenous spatial imaginaries. What results is an intricate spatial history of border making in southeastern South America (present-day Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay) with global implications.

Drawing upon manuscripts from over two dozen archives in seven countries, Jeffrey Erbig traces on-the-ground interactions between Ibero-American colonists, Jesuit and Guaraní mission-dwellers, and autonomous Indigenous peoples as they responded to ever-changing notions of territorial possession. It reveals that Native agents shaped when and where the border was drawn, and fused it to their own territorial claims. While mapmakers' assertions of Indigenous disappearance or subjugation shaped historiographical imaginations thereafter, Erbig reveals that the formation of a border was contingent upon Native engagement and authority.

Published with support provided by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas

About the Author

Jeffrey Alan Erbig Jr. is assistant professor of Latin American and Latino studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
For more information about Jeffrey Alan Erbig Jr., visit the Author Page.


“This provocative case study alternately provides a reexamination and, in places, reiteration of the core arguments of spatial history. It demonstrates how cartographic practices simultaneously created and transformed ethnicities while significantly contributing to the contemporary marginalization of Native peoples.”--CHOICE

“Richly illuminating. . . . Methodologically innovative and framed by compelling questions, Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met opens up possibilities for comparative research in other borderland regions in South America and beyond. It offers scholars a whole new perspective on imperial and Native territorialities, which competed and intersected in the making of a meaningful border.”—Hispanic American Historical Review

“Provides an extremely coherent and comprehensible analysis of a very complex topic. . . . Erbig contributes considerably to recent debates on indigenous agency and indigenous knowledge in colonial history and in the history of science. His study goes far beyond the observation . . . that border-making and mapping were cooperative undertakings to which both European and indigenous actors contributed.”—Journal of Early American History

Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met accomplishes the herculean task of placing Indigenous mobile populations in the center of imperial conflicts in South America, demonstrating their pivotal role in the making of the borderline. . . . An invaluable contribution to borderland history, Indigenous history, the history of cartography, colonial/imperial history, and the regional history of Rio de La Plata.”—Journal of Social History

“This book tells a nuanced story of border-making at a critical moment in Latin American political and cartographic history.”—The Americas

“Erbig’s sweeping, incisive history of South America—presented unassumingly as a history of border making—tells this story with granular detail, revealing a process that unfolded over more than a century.”—Colonial Latin American Review