The Indies of the Setting Sun: How Early Modern Spain Mapped the Far East as the Transpacific West (Paperback)

The Indies of the Setting Sun: How Early Modern Spain Mapped the Far East as the Transpacific West By Ricardo Padrón Cover Image
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Padrón reveals the evolution of Spain’s imagining of the New World as a space in continuity with Asia.

Narratives of Europe’s westward expansion often tell of how the Americas came to be known as a distinct landmass, separate from Asia and uniquely positioned as new ground ripe for transatlantic colonialism. But this geographic vision of the Americas was not shared by all Europeans. While some imperialists imagined North and Central America as undiscovered land, the Spanish pushed to define the New World as part of a larger and eminently flexible geography that they called las Indias, and that by right, belonged to the Crown of Castile and León. Las Indias included all of the New World as well as East and Southeast Asia, although Spain’s understanding of the relationship between the two areas changed as the realities of the Pacific Rim came into sharper focus. At first, the Spanish insisted that North and Central America were an extension of the continent of Asia. Eventually, they came to understand East and Southeast Asia as a transpacific extension of their empire in America called las Indias del poniente, or the Indies of the Setting Sun.

The Indies of the Setting Sun charts the Spanish vision of a transpacific imperial expanse, beginning with Balboa’s discovery of the South Sea and ending almost a hundred years later with Spain’s final push for control of the Pacific. Padrón traces a series of attempts—both cartographic and discursive—to map the space from Mexico to Malacca, revealing the geopolitical imaginations at play in the quest for control of the New World and Asia.

About the Author

Ricardo Padrón is professor of Spanish at the University of Virginia.

Praise For…

"It should be essential reading for anyone seeking a fresh approach to understanding Spain’s imperial ambitions during the Age of Discovery."
— The Portolan

"Columbus thought that Cuba was an appendage of Asia, and, though it may surprise readers, it would be more than a century before more accurate accounts of the Pacific Ocean and the distinctions between the landforms of Asia and North America emerged. Padrón relays this story with comprehensive knowledge and a skillful interpretation of cartographic and narrative sources, which often rationalized Spanish imperial aims to show that the Spanish Empire had Asian components thanks to the world-encompassing meridian line that divided Spanish and Portuguese zones for exploitation. . . . This highly recommended book clarifies the history of seemingly naïve but at times politically useful sets of flawed assumptions."

"This is a salutary book. . . . it is immensely valuable in making us see how sixteenth-century Spaniards conceptually framed the Americas, the Pacific and beyond; it literally takes us into another world."
— The Globe: Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Map Society

"Historian Ricardo Padrón’s The Indies of the Setting Sun: How Early Modern Spain Mapped the Far East as the Transpacific West attempts to understand how, in discursive and visual terms, the Spanish crown sought to project its geopolitical and historical influence in the world from the sixteenth century forward. . . . The book is a valuable contribution not only because of its rigorous and intelligent interpretations, but also because it invites us to think about two major issues. First, it shows that territories such as the Americas were not 'invented' once and for all but were revised and reinvented over time and from different places and communities. Second, the book reminds us that we must decenter our gaze from the battles of conquest and pay attention instead to the voyages and ways of understanding vast spaces such as the oceans that were key in politically configuring our modern experience of the globe."
— Terrae Incognitae

"In The Indies of the Setting Sun, Ricardo Padrón explores the spatial imaginaries of elite Spaniards in the period bookended by Balboa’s “discovery” of the Pacific Ocean in 1513 in present- day Panama and the 1606 Spanish conquest of the Moluccas. "
— Early American Literature

"With this work, Padrón demonstrates that the Pacific has been a fundamental issue in the invention of America, a process that, as he firmly asserts, 'has been repeatedly revised and reinvented over the course of the years, and has meant different things at different times in different discursive communities.' Padrón encourages readers to view the geopolitical imagination of Habsburg Spain in a different light and to rethink the possibilities offered by new approaches to consider the Pacific not as marginal, but as a central location of the Spanish empire."
— Bulletin of the Comediantes

"The Indies of the Setting Sun is an original and thoughtful study of the ‘invention’ and subsequent reinventions of the Pacific Ocean as part of the Spanish empire. Padrón brings to this project the same lucid, elegant prose and methodology that characterized his earlier monograph, and again he provides an argument supported by a careful study of sources employing the best historical approaches, closely contextualized reading, and an expansive definition of cartography. This is a much needed intervention, highlighting the importance of Spanish Asia in the history of Spanish imperial expansion."
— María M. Portuondo, author of The Spanish Disquiet: The Biblical Natural Philosophy of Benito Arias Montano

"The Indies of the Setting Sun examines the way that Spanish knowledge about the South Sea—now known as the Pacific Ocean—was developed. Challenging the historical idea that Magellan's circumnavigation had established Europeans' understanding of the Americas as divided from Asia by the vast Pacific, Padrón reveals an 'alternative European cartography' that persisted across the sixteenth century. In this odd parallel universe, America was merely the forecourt to Asia, and the South Sea was a small basin within the larger Indies, then Spain's overseas empire. This is the first book I've ever read that colors the larger 'Indies' so vividly."
— Barbara Mundy, author of The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City

"The author’s aim. . . is ambitious but the reader will not be disappointed. Padrón, in fact, leads his audience on a real journey through time, dismantling many commonplaces and prejudices about the modern perception of the way the world has been thought of and represented on maps at the dawn of modernity. The author breaks the patterns in the way we think about historical cartography between rigid categories of ‘right and wrong’, ‘precise and approximate’. Instead, Padrón highlights a complex historical process in which different cultural and political theories competed with each other in a dialectic that shaped our way of understanding geography. . . . Ricardo Padrón’s book: The Indies of the Setting Sun should be welcomed as a useful and much needed book. . . . I believe that today, in an era of redefinition of the balance between global powers with enormous interests in the Pacific area, this book is of great usefulness and relevance."
— Rutter Project

Product Details
ISBN: 9780226820019
ISBN-10: 0226820017
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: July 6th, 2022
Pages: 352