At the Border of Decolonization
Map by Spanish chronicler, historian, and writer Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas showing the meridian established under the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, 1622. Source: Library of Congress.
The colonial genealogy of the contemporary nation-state border frames any politics of their opening. Borders are opened when they are approached, conceptually and practically, as ambivalent, porous, fluid, and negotiated. At the same time, borders, whether closed or opened, are also historical artifacts of a colonial episteme. Neglecting the colonial genealogy of the border renders border work of any and all sort as a deferral of the work of decolonization.
The planet is bordered because it was bordered by colonialism. Étienne Balibar has suggested the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas as one of the key moments in the emergence of this globalizing regime of bordering.1 This treaty, between the Portuguese and Castilian Empires, divided the Atlantic at a meridian line 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands into possessions of each empire. In its initial formulation, the length of this meridian was not specified. As Spanish and Portuguese explorers increasingly encountered “new” parts of the “New World,” however, the meridian came to be extended across the planet, dividing it into hemispheres, each belonging to one of the treaty’s two imperial signatories.
Read Andrew Herscher and Ana María León’s piece on e-flux architecture here.