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Andean Highlands

The Andes mountain range as seen from a plane, between Santiago de Chile and Mendoza, Argentina, in summer. Jorge Morales Piderit 2008.

The Andes is the longest mountain range in the world. It covers a great vast of the western South American coast, including Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Most civilizations inhabited the temperate highlands, however, the mountains had a wide range of climate and physical features from snow-capped volcanoes, deserts, high paramos, and jungles (Applebaum “The Northeast and Antioquia” 57). The northeast Andean region is home to some of Colombia’s richest historical civilizations. During the Spanish conquest, the Muisca people dominated the Andean region, creating several cities and towns. Bogota, the modern-day capital of Colombia, was the center of commerce during conquest and colonization periods, and although not well known, the civilizations created in this area compete for the most important indigenous civilization in history (Applebaum “Geology, Prehistory, and History” 167-168).


South America map highlighting Andes mountain range, Maps of World 2017.

The northern Andes were rich in gold, as gold constituted its greatest export in the mid-1800s. Gold mining in rivers constituted the economic mainstay of New Granada and became its essential link to global markets. In addition, northeastern had a state-imposed monopoly, and they experienced two more export booms in tobacco and hats, which occurred in the 1850s. And, livestock and local markets also thrived in the area. In the warmer altitudes, cotton, sugarcane, cacao, and coffee were grown. In the cooler altitudes, wheat, potatoes, and maize were grown. Overall, 19th century Andes was defined by its exports in hats, gold, and tobacco, which helped stimulate the economy and place itself in the international conversation (Applebaum “The Northeast and Antioquia” 58).

Colombia: Hiking through the Valle de Cocora near Salento, Eli Duke 2011.

In the Chorographic Commissions’ first expedition, Manuel Ancizar and Agostino Codazzi explored the Andean region of Colombia. They studied the geologic composition of the mountains and related geology to the history of the civilizations that inhabited them. Ancizar claimed that the shape and composition of the mountains was a true testimony to the “tremendous uprisings and collapses” that transformed this very territory (Applebaum “Geology, Prehistory, and History” 167). They discovered writings and other archeological features that hinted to them that the civilizations that were once here were much more advanced and important than once thought. They sought to debunk the European views of the “Old World” which stated that there was nothing but “small phenomena” (Applebaum “Geology, Prehistory, and History” 169).  These findings defined the convergence between the multiple perceptions of history: geologic, mythic, prehistoric, and modern to overlap and form one unified history. This interwoven history merged into one recent past that just preceded and presaged the Conquest and the formation of a modern nation.

Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, British, Dutch & French Guiana (South America) Issued 1905, Chicago by George F. Cram

Ancizar came to the conclusion that the Colombian Andes consisted entirely of a hardworking white race, which constituted a homogenous population (Applebaum “The Northeast and Antioquia” 55). The Andes, in contrast to the Plains, were seen as white, homogeneous, sophisticated, and civilized. This view of the Andes civilization is something that dates back to the Muiscas, a sophisticated prehistoric Andean civilization. The depiction of the Muisca as this grandiose civilization allowed Bogota intellectuals to place themselves alongside Mexico, Peru, and the Mediterannean as having one of the greatest civilizations in world history. Additionally, it also reaffirmed the political supremacy of Bogota (Applebaum “Geology, Prehistory, and History” 175). The notion that the nineteenth-century territorial order was rooted in the past was affirmed not only through narrative and imagery but also through maps. Codazzi and Ancizar claimed that Colombia became a country of distinct regions with their on individual narratives. The commissioners had efforts to both unify and divide the country, and they privileged the inhabitants of the Andean highlands over those of the tropical lowlands. By doing this, the commissioners helped solidify the race and gender stereotypes that still hold true today in Colombia. Colombia’s varying topography and regions have become borders for intersectionality. Ancizar described the contrast between up and down the mountain slopes, in which barbarianism reeked below only to be modified by the advanced civilization above (Applebaum “Conclusion” 206).

Over a century later after Codazzi’s death, those living in the core of the Colombian Andes identify as “normal” Colombians or común y corriente, or white/mestizo. Those normal people of Colombia have a strict perception of the people of the rest of the country as “Other” who were violent and inferior (Applebaum “Conclusion” 206). “The sum of many regional types that diverged in their appearance and customs.” An endless variety of types—defined variably according to criteria such as race, caste, occupation, level of “civilization,” sex, and geographic location (Applebaum “The Northeast and Antioquia” 61).


APPELBAUM, NANCY P. “Introduction: The Chorographic Commission of New Granada.” In Mapping the Country of Regions: The Chorographic Commission of Nineteenth-Century Colombia, 1-16. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

APPELBAUM, NANCY P. “A Homogeneous, Vigorous, and Well-Formed Population: The Northeast and Antioquia.” In Mapping the Country of Regions: The Chorographic Commission of Nineteenth-Century Colombia, 54-80. 

APPELBAUM, NANCY P. “The History of These Sublime Cordilleras: Geology, Prehistory, and History.” In Mapping the Country of Regions: The Chorographic Commission of Nineteenth-Century Colombia, 167-83.

APPELBAUM, NANCY P. “Conclusion: The Country of Regions.” In Mapping the Country of Regions: The Chorographic Commission of Nineteenth-Century Colombia, 203-14. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

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