Proposal: September 1998

Alexandro Malaspina Research Centre

John Black
Russell McNeil
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: 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: 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.

Research Associates

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.

Administrative Support

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.

Seed Funding

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.