Proposal: September 1998
Alexandro Malaspina Research Centre
Liberal Studies Department
Malaspina University College
The Italian navigator Alexandro Malaspina is a pivotal figure, not only
in the history of European contact with First Nations peoples on the West
Coast of North America, but also in the development, during the period
now known as the Enlightenment, of a number of academic disciplines, including
physics, applied astronomy and political philosophy. His achievements
in these varied fields were celebrated in the naming of Malaspina University
College when our institution was founded nearly three decades ago.
In Italy and in Spain today there exists a lively community of scholarly
researchers into the thoughts, words and deeds of Alexandro Malaspina.
Their interests have been echoed in maritime history conferences in various
parts of the English-speaking world, but it is fair to say that nowhere
in Britain, Canada, the United States or Australia is there a level of
scholarly interest in Malaspina Studies which rivals the intense commitment
of these Spanish and Italian investigators. The present proposal
aims to redress the balance by providing support and encouragement, primarily,
for English-language research into Malaspina’s voyages and writings.
It is particularly suitable that a Centre for such research be created
at Malaspina University College. In this way the institution can
put flesh on its (otherwise token!) acknowledgment of the significance
of Alexandro Malaspina as an explorer of the physical as well as of the
conceptual world. The anticipated interdisciplinary character of
this research will reflect both the wide range of its subject’s intellectual
interests and the reputation for excellence which the University College
has gained in recent years through its own interdisciplinary programs.
The Research Centre will allow for the further development of the already
cordial relations the University College has with contemporary members
of the Malaspina family and with the corresponding centres of Malaspina
Studies activity in Italy, Spain and elsewhere.
Aside on Spelling
The standard Italian spelling of Malaspina’s first name is “Alessandro.”
The record of his birth now in Mulazzo, Tuscany, uses “Allesandro,” which
is at best an archaic variant. He is better known by the Hispanicization
“Alejandro,” though this alters the pronunciation to what would in English
be written as “Alehandro.” Malaspina’s own ingenious solution to
the differing pronunciation, in his native Italy and adopted Spain, of
his first name was to adopt a spelling which is pronounced correctly in
both languages: he signed his letters “Alexandro,” and this is the spelling
the Research Centre itself will employ.
For the most part the activities of the Centre can be undertaken without
creating demand on any other than existing facilities at the University
College. There are two areas of exception:
Archival and Research Repository
The success of the Centre will depend upon the possibility of setting
up a repository for various kinds of material, including original archival
material, copies of existing material situated at archives in Italy and
Spain and scholarly material pertaining to the research being undertaken
at the Centre.
The University College has already received offers of such material
from the Vancouver Spanish Pacific Historical Society, and through it from
the Special Collections Department of the UBC Library. Several local
maritime historians have indicated in the past that they might be willing
to contribute material, and a number of books, journals and conference
proceedings have already been received. There is some hope, eventually,
of building up a more comprehensive archive through the co-operation of
the Centre for Malaspina Studies in Mulazzo, Italy. All of this material
will require space, however, and limitations on space available will have
to be negotiated with the Director of the Library.
Research Office Space
Since most of the sustained scholarly research at Malaspina tends to
occur during assisted leaves, when faculty may lose access to office space
they otherwise occupy, the Centre should be able to provide some alternative
space, including computer facilities. The space need not be large,
but it should be able to accommodate at least two faculty working on Malaspina
research and some of the reference works they require. It is obviously
an advantage of the office space can be connected with the space devoted
to the repository.
Activities of the Centre
The range of future activities which can be undertaken by the Centre is
of course open-ended. They will be constrained by such factors as
the research interests of the Centre’s associates, the availability of
archival and other materials, access to assisted leave and other means
of supporting research financially. In the immediate future, however,
the following are intended:
Translation of Dario Manfredi’s biography of Alexandro Malaspina, previously
published in Spanish in the volume “La América Imposible,” along
with whatever other materials from that volume it is possible to include
by permission of the original publishers. Translation rights to the
biography have already been secured and work on the translation has begun.
The book which will result from this endeavour promises to be commercially
viable as a result of its appeal to a wide audience within and without
Future research projects which have been discussed focus on Malaspina’s
axiomatization of physics, his work on astronomy and navigation, and his
place in the cultural fabric of Enlightenment Spain. All of the above
projects are expected to issue in events of the following kind:
Translation of Malaspina’s Axiomas políticos sobre la América,
in which he recommends to the Spanish Crown a policy of economic as opposed
to military hegemony in the Americas. This project will act as a
focus for further research into Malaspina’s place in Enlightenment political
thought. The products of this activity will be mainly of academic
An Inaugural Symposium, in late 1999, to bring together scholars from overseas
and British Columbia and adopt goals for the future of the Centre.
An International Conference on Malaspina Studies: the date to be determined
in consultation with other organizations facilitating research activity
on the subject. In the long term, the Research will hope to participate
in a rotation of conference sites with its counterparts overseas.
An important function of the Centre, to be implemented through its Director,
is the maintenance of liaison with its counterparts overseas, provincial
and other archives, maritime historical societies such as the Vancouver
Spanish Pacific Historical Society and the Hakluyt Society, maritime historians
such as John Crosse, Robin Inglis and John Kendrick who have been working
on Malaspina for a number of years, and the Malaspina family.
Community Education Lectures: as far as possible, the results of the academic
research conducted at the Centre will be presented in a form accessible
to the interested public. During next Spring, for example, John Kendrick
will talk about his biography of Malaspina, to be published in March 1999.
While it is hoped that many more faculty will wish to work through the
Centre once it is operational, the following are those who have expressed
interest at this preliminary stage:
Dr. John Black, Liberal Studies, and Philosophy and Religious Studies
Ms. Ana Maria Donat, Modern Languages
Mr. Robert Jeacock, Economics, and Liberal Studies
Mr. Daniel McDonald, First Nations Studies
Dr. Russell McNeil, Liberal Studies, and Physics, Engineering and Astronomy
Ms. Deanne Schultz, History
Dr. William Weller, Physics, Engineering and Astronomy
It is proposed that the Research Associates will select one of their number
to act as Director on a rotating basis. The Director will be responsible
for the daily running of the Centre, public relations and liaison with
other bodies and individuals.
It is requested that Diane Deyotte be asked to provide occasional administrative
advice and support to the Director. Ms. Deyotte’s initiative and
experience in liaison with others interested in Malaspina Studies will
prove invaluable to the Director in this aspect of her/his rôle.
It is expected, however, that the Centre will be largely self-sufficient
in terms of clerical activity.
The ongoing of Centre activities is an issue which may be addressed in
a number of ways as events determine. In the short term, it is requested
that a sum of $500 per annum be assigned to a unique cost centre to defray
the costs of mailing, letter-translation, and other communications required
in the initiation of Centre activities.