Southern Stars

Date: 1672
Owner: John Carter Brown Library, Brown University
Source Type: Images


This 1672 map includes sky charts of several constellations only visible in the Southern hemisphere. The new (to Europeans) stars of the south presented navigators and astrologers alike with new challenges. Astrology was still considered by many in the seventeenth century to be a legitimate science and the stars and planets, like other aspects of nature, were believed to have a very real influence on the inherent capacities of the peoples of various parts of the earth (see the topics on Eugenics and Tropical Medicine for more recent manifestations of environmental determinism).

Following the tenets of environmental determinism, Europeans denigrated all inhabitants of the Americas (especially the tropics) as degenerates because everyone in America was subject to the same natural conditions. Europeans considered American humidity the source of the Indians' supposed "effeminacy," which was apparent in their beardlessness, cowardice, and even stupidity. The southern hemisphere's constellations were also understood to cause premature aging and general physical degeneration.

Early seventeenth century creoles, however, resented such disparagements (ones they typically reserved for Indians and blacks) and thus created an early form of racism, one that advocated essential differences between the bodies of Indians, blacks, and Europeans. Yet this fairly modern style of racism was firmly entrenched in the prevailing environmentalism of the period, thus America's stars and climate were considered beneficial to Europeans while emasculating Indians. As races that were inherently different, they each had a unique reaction to the same environment. Creoles were thus able to defend America's natural virtues while concurrently making the case that its environment turned Indians into slow-minded brutes fit only to do hard labor for European/creole rulers. Although this form of racism was short lived, it represents an early manifestation of the ideology of essential difference, one that was highly influential to the more "scientific" racists of the nineteenth and twentieth century.

Canizares-Esguerra, Jorge. "New Worlds, New Stars: Patriotic Astrology and the Invention of Indian and Creole Bodies in Colonial Spanish America, 1600-1650." In The American Historical Review, vol. 104, no. 1 (Feb., 1999), 33-68.

CITATION: Seller, John. Novissima totius terrarum orbis tabula in Atlas maritimus, or A book of charts. London, 1672. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. JCB call number: *Z S467 1672 / 3-SIZE. Record number: 9772-3.