On 30 May 2022, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised a face-to-face dialogue in the Rafael del Pino auditorium. "An empire of engineers: the infrastructures of the Spanish Empire". in which Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Manuel Lucena and Maite Rico took part.on the occasion of the publication of the work "An empire of engineers. A history of the Spanish empire through its infrastructures". by Felipe Fernández-Armesto and Manuel Lucena, published by Taurus.
Felipe Fernández-Armesto D. in History from Oxford University, where he worked for several years in the Department of Modern History. He later held the Chair of World and Environmental History at London University and then the Prince of Asturias Chair in Spanish Culture and Civilization at Tufts University in Boston. He is currently William P. Reynolds Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He has taught at several universities, including Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Cambridge and Edinburgh. Professor Fernández-Armesto has collaborated extensively with the Foundation. The result of this collaboration was the publication of his research on the history of exploration under the title "Pathfinders. A Global History of Exploration", which was recognised by the Academy of History of the United States as the best history book published in 2007; as well as his research on the relevant role of Spain in the history of this nation as opposed to the traditional historiographical view, which resulted in the publication of a book entitled "Our America. A Hispanic History of the United States" His new research, An empire of engineerssponsored by the Rafael del Pino Foundation, highlights the central role of engineers in the forging of the Spanish Empire. This research has resulted in the publication of a book, entitled "Un imperio de ingenieros", written with the characteristic sharpness, wit and intelligence of one of the most eminent international historians.
Manuel Lucena Giraldo is a Historian. Researcher at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas de España (CSIC), associate professor at Instituto de Empresa/IE University and ESCP Business School Europe. He was visiting professor at Harvard University, Lecturer BOSP at Stanford University and researcher and visiting professor at Tufts University (Boston), Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Colombia), IVIC (Venezuela), Universidad de los Andes (Chile and Colombia), Colegio de México and St. Antony's College of Oxford University. He has been education attaché at the Spanish Embassy in Colombia and has held higher education management positions. He was CSIC representative at the European Science Foundation, manager of COST networks and research project advisor at the Carolina Foundation. He is a member of the editorial boards of Culture & History and Revista de Occidente. He is a member of the advisory board of "National Geographic" on global history. He is a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of History of Spain, the Colombian Academy of History and a member of the area committee of Europaea Academy. Serves on the board of directors of Hispania Nostra. His publications have dealt with travellers, scientific expeditions, cities, national images, empires and globalisation. He is co-author of the Oxford Illustrated History of the World and professor of non-fiction, negotiation and enterprise at the Penguin Random House School of Writing. His new research, An empire of engineerssponsored by the Rafael del Pino Foundation, highlights the central role of engineers in the forging of the Spanish Empire. This research has resulted in the publication of a book, entitled "Un imperio de ingenieros", written with the characteristic sharpness, wit and intelligence of one of the most eminent international historians.
Maite Rico is director of The Readingthe cultural magazine of EL MUNDO and a columnist for the same newspaper. She has worked for 25 years at the newspaper EL PAÍS, where she was deputy editor after developing her career as an editorialist, correspondent in Mexico and Central America and reporter in Bosnia, Somalia and Libya. She is co-author, with Bertrand de la Grange, of the books Marcos, the brilliant imposture (Aguilar, Mexico and Madrid, 1998; and Plon, Paris, 1998), on the Zapatista uprising in the Mexican state of Chiapas, and Who killed the bishop? Autopsy of a political crime (Planeta, Mexico, 2003, and Martínez Roca, Madrid, 2005), on the assassination of the Guatemalan bishop Juan Gerardi.
On 30 May 2022, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised the dialogue "Un imperio de ingenieros: las infraestructuras del imperio español", with the participation of Felipe Fernández-Armesto, William P. Reynolds Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, and Manuel Lucena, researcher at the Spanish National Research Council and associate professor at the Instituto de Empresa/IE University and ESCP Business School Europe, on the occasion of the publication of his work "Un imperio de ingenieros. A history of the Spanish empire through its infrastructures".
Fernández-Armesto began by commenting on a letter he had discovered addressed to Philip II, written by the mayor of a Spanish fortress in what is now Iran, a forgotten corner of the Spanish monarchy. The letter begins by saying that the fortress, located in Hormuz, is made of mud and needs to be rebuilt every year after the rainy season. The mayor had under his command seven Portuguese and forty natives and was unable to fulfil his mission. It was impossible for him to supply his people with weapons. Don Geronimo, as the alcalde was called, was referring not to firearms but to arrows, even though it was in the 80s of the 16th century. Finally, the major problem facing the king was the need to supply his people with sufficient quantities of opium to enable them to cope with their difficult task.
That is the problem of all pre-industrial empires. Empires were not powerful states, but weak ones. The larger their borders were, the weaker the empires were. One of the key methods of survival was to invest in infrastructure to facilitate the development of new economic initiatives and the wealth of citizens. For this, the Spanish had no other model than the Roman Empire. The other empires imitated the Spanish. Infrastructures, therefore, are fundamental to understanding these empires.
From this perspective, Lucena comments that there are many who explain how empires begin and end, but no one explains why they last, which is what the book tries to do. Therefore, the first chapter has to do with an ironic fact, which is that once the Spaniards have arrived in America, they have to think about how to return to Spain, and to do so, they have to sail. Once they had established themselves, they had to move around the territory, using roads and inland waterways. The latter were essential in America because of the great rivers there. Then you have to defend the frontiers, for which you need to build fortresses. Wealth must also be created, which requires structured maritime concession ports. Then you have to produce and you have to cure, since the Spanish, when they arrived in America, got sick, so hospitals were needed. Then there was religious expansion, through the missions, in places where no one else wanted to be. Finally, you have to nationalise the empire because there is empire before there is nation.
In 1897, a year before the loss of the Philippines, the last Spanish road plan there was implemented. On 3 September 1898, two Spanish road engineers were captured by the Tágalos because they were there doing their work. When the United States arrived, they discovered that there were already a thousand or so kilometres of high quality roads and they simply executed what the Spaniards had already planned. The Tágalos, when they realised that the two engineers were important people, released them and they were able to return home. All this was a long sequence of globalisation based on the Spanish empire.
It is often thought that there is a scientific culture and a humanistic culture. This has conditioned a certain vision of the history of technology. Then there is a myth of Spanish exceptionalism detached from the serious tasks of progress. The debate on Spanish science in the 19th and 20th centuries still has to do with the denial of that scientific capacity.
In this regard, Fernández-Armesto pointed out that Spain has an honourable past in terms of scientific research. The monarchy invested much more in research and infrastructure than any other European monarchy. The empire encompassed an impressive variety of environments and cultures in which a metropolitan will could not be imposed with the resources of the time, but had to seek collaboration with the indigenous elites.
This is why, says Lucena, there is a deliberate decision in infrastructure policy. There is a social change that is generated from the creation of infrastructures, of a mixed architecture so that there is a permanent presence and so that there are institutions. There are also public works for social integration. Behind it, there is a system of meritocracy.
Consequently, explains Fernández-Armesto, in the 18th century the process of building infrastructures became professionalised. In the 16th and 17th centuries, they were built by friars and soldiers. In the 18th century we see an enormous increase in the number of professionally trained engineers, especially with Charles III.
Lucena adds that Philip II attached so much importance to the empire that he sent his personal physician to look for plants and medicines, to converse with the native sages. In this respect, Philip II was an overwhelmingly modern man. In his anguish for good infrastructure he came across a tradition of engineers in northern Italy. Someone told him that a certain Locatelli was a great engineer. The problem with hiring him was that he was a highwayman, to which Philip II replied that these were sins of youth and that what mattered was that he was a good engineer.
Moreover, Fernández-Armesto points out, there was some competition between religious and secular authorities. In Quito and Bolivia there are huge churches, like cathedrals, which the local populations were unable to fill. But they were built in this way so that the religious authorities would not have to hand over the indigenous people to the secular authorities with the excuse that they were needed for these immense projects sponsored by the friars.
The Spanish empire, Lucena adds, was an empire of cities. The city councils were responsible for the construction of infrastructure. The lattice-plan city was the modern city, a sanitised city in which the wind flowed. The city is the tradition of the reconquest transferred to America.
The Panama Canal, continues Fernández-Armesto, was another of those projects that were discussed for centuries without being realised. If conditions had been a little different, it could also have been built. In fact, Lucena recalls, the debate in the 16th century was whether to build the canal through Panama or Nicaragua. In the 16th century, there was also the Canal del Dique, which came out of the bay of Cartagena de Indias to the south. It is the history of massive intervention.
For this reason, says Fernández-Armesto, the role of the imagination in mastering a physical environment with such high mountains, jungles and enormous rivers must be emphasised. One has to think what it was like to find oneself in the midst of all that in the 16th century and to reconfigure those landscapes. It is a triumph of the imagination.
This capacity for imagination and flexibility, Lucena concludes, operates in a context where you have to get along with indigenous communities, you have to bring in raw materials, you have to know what language to speak.
The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.
The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.