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Latin America and Latin Americans played a pivotal role in the 20th-century reconstruction of the global food system. This process is often remembered as the “Green Revolution,” a loaded phrase forged in the Cold War furnace of 1968 and referring to the adoption of high-yielding and disease-resistant seeds, petrochemical inputs, and mechanization in the agriculture of what was then referred to as the “Third World.” Here, the purpose is to introduce this process and the contentious politics of historical narrative that are inseparable from material stories about plant breeding. The Green Revolution in Latin America has a deeper and more complex history than the US-centric post–World War II narrative that long set the terms of the field. Beginning in the late 19th century, “creole pre-histories” set the intellectual and material principles for the later growth and internationalization of agricultural development work. An important shift occurred in the 1940s as the Rockefeller Foundation in particular turned to these preexisting sites of agricultural science and linked them via state partnerships in a new era of “coordinated country programs.” As the international Cold War matured, these country programs offered a network upon which to further globalize research agendas, in many cases disassociating agricultural research from the specific regional and political contexts at the sites of the scientific institutions. The resultant network of “placeless” agricultural research is perhaps best understood through the creation of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in 1971, which at its 50th anniversary in 2021 maintained three important research centers with Latin American addresses, oriented toward the goals and funding mechanics of agricultural science on a global scale.

Article

Ian Kisil Marino and Thiago Lima Nicodemo

Historians devoted to telling the story of the COVID-19 pandemic should question the archival conditions involved. In this article, we approach the archival landscape in Latin America in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, which particularly unfolded in the digital environment. First, we suggest a review of archival digitization in Latin America, providing context for the conditions observed during the pandemic. Second, we discuss the emergence of digital memory initiatives that focused on COVID-19, showing typological relations that may arise from transnational analyses. Accordingly, we dive into some Brazilian archival initiatives with major ethnographic rigor since, in addition to closely representing the reality of the region, they provide us with a more accurate immersion into the agents, platforms, and challenges of this pandemic digital undertaking. Lastly, we point out the complex situation of public archives amidst the mass of documents resulting from the pandemic. This way, we pose questions about the increasingly important interface between history, archives, and a policy for transparency of data.

Article

Latin America is thought to be the world’s most biodiverse region, but as in the rest of the world, the number of species and the size of their populations is generally in sharp decline. Most experts consider agriculture to be the most important cause of biodiversity decline. At one extreme of policy argument regarding biodiversity conservation are those who argue that the only path to species protection is the establishment of many more and larger “protected areas” in which human activities will be severely restricted. On the remaining land agriculture will be carried out largely with the presently prevailing methods of “industrial agriculture,” including heavy reliance on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, heavy machine use, large-scale irrigation schemes, limited crop diversity, and crops genetically engineered to maximize returns from these tools and techniques. Those who argue for these policies largely accept that industrial agriculture of this sort is severely hostile to biodiversity, but argue that the high productivity of such methods makes it possible to limit agriculture to a relatively small land base, leaving the rest for protected areas and other human activities. On the other side of the argument are those who argue that agricultural techniques are either available or can be created to make agricultural areas more favorable to species survival. They argue that even with a desirable expansion of protected areas, such reserves cannot successfully maintain high biodiversity levels if protected reserves are not complemented by an agriculture more friendly to species survival and migration. The policy arguments on these issues are of major human and biological importance. They are also very complex and depend on theoretical perspectives and data that do not provide definitive guidance. One way to enrich the debate is to develop a specifically historical perspective that illuminates the relationship between human actions and species diversity. In Latin America, humans have been modifying landscapes and species composition of landscapes for thousands of years. Even in areas of presently low human population density and extraordinarily high species diversity, such as remaining tropical rainforests, humans may have been active in shaping species composition for millennia. After 1492, human population levels in Latin America plummeted with the introduction of Old-World diseases. It is often assumed that this led to a blossoming of species diversity, but the historical evidence from 1492 to the present strongly suggests the combination of European technologies and the integration of agriculture into world markets meant more damaging use of soils, widespread deforestation, and subsequent decline in species numbers. The exploitation and consequent despoliation of Latin American resources were integral to colonialism and intensified later by national governments focused on rapid economic growth. High species diversity remained in areas that were too difficult to exploit and/or were used by indigenous populations or smallholders whose production techniques were often favorable to species survival. Many of these techniques provide clues for how agriculture might be reshaped to be more friendly both to biodiversity and social equity.

Article

In 2019, the Institute of Geology celebrated its ninetieth anniversary as part of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). The main establishment in Mexico for the teaching, research, and dissemination of the geological sciences, it is an institution with a long history and a great scientific legacy. It dates back to the 19th century, since it is the heir to the Geological Institute of Mexico (1888), the first institute in the Mexican republic to carry out research in the geological sciences and to study the country’s territory from three points of view: scientific, technical, and industrial. It was conceived by the mining engineer Antonio del Castillo (1820–1895) to meet the need to scientifically explore the country’s latent mineral wealth, for which reason its functions included: mapping regions whose lithology and resources were unknown, providing specialized services to the public—the analysis and classification of water, rocks, land, fossils, minerals, and oil—and creating a geological and paleontological museum for the nation. From 1888 to 1917, the institution was part of the Ministry of Development, Colonization, Industry, and Commerce (Ministerio de Fomento, Colonización, Industria y Comercio). In 1917, the Venustiano Carranza administration promulgated a new constitution, reformed governmental administration, and created the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Labor (Secretaría de Industria, Comercio y Trabajo), which was responsible for all questions related to industries such as mining and oil. Although it lapsed somewhat between 1917 and 1929, during the armed conflict of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), the Institute of Geology of Mexico was assigned to the Department of Geological Studies and Explorations, with the task of carrying out applied science through the study of new and old mining areas and the location of aquifers. A new scenario emerged in 1929 when the administration of President Emilio Portes Gil enacted the Organic Law of the National University, granting the latter university autonomy, which also allowed institutions of a scientific nature such as the National Astronomical Observatory, the National Library, the Department of Biological Studies, and the National Geological Institute to carry out research as one of their substantive activities. On November 16, 1929, the former Department of Geological Studies and Explorations was incorporated in the most important scholarly institution of Mexico under the name of the Institute of Geology.

Article

Emily Story

For much of its history, Brazil’s population remained bound along the coastline. Geographic features, such as coastal mountain ranges and a relative lack of navigable rivers, stymied efforts to settle and exploit the vast interior. Because of its inaccessibility to authorities based on the coast, the interior became a place of refuge for Indigenous communities and runaway slaves. During the colonial period (1500–1822) and several decades beyond, waterways and Indigenous footpaths (sometimes widened to allow for ox carts and mule trains) were the main routes for travel into the hinterland. Slavers and mineral prospectors known as bandeirantes founded scattered settlements in Minas Gerais, Goiás, and Mato Grosso. As the Industrial Revolution created new demands and technological possibilities in the late 19th century, efforts to connect the interior to the coast came via the telegraph and railroad. The rubber boom of that era precipitated greater settlement of the Amazon region and relied on riverine transport. Road building has intensified since the mid-20th century. The new capital, Brasília, centerpiece of President Juscelino Kubitschek’s (1956–1961) campaign to achieve “Fifty Years of Progress,” initiated a new network of highways, later expanded by the military regime (1964–1985). Those efforts aimed to promote economic development, redirect internal migration, and extend the territorial control of the central government. Migrants and entrepreneurs, traveling on official highways and illegal roads constructed along the way, set fire to grasslands and forests to convert them into pasture. Roads, both legal and illegal, thus opened the way for transformations of the ecosystems of the Brazilian interior. At the same time, they created conditions for intensified conflict between newcomers and those who had long called the interior home.

Article

A review of the literature on the Vaccine Revolt shows that it continues to be treated in an overly simplistic manner as a “structure” subjected to some form of regulation, from which its dynamics can be explained and its “root causes” identified. It is possible to forge a new, more cautious historiographical path, seeking to view this “structure” as a rhizome, as a loosely connected ensemble that exists under unstable circumstances whose precarious (dis)order cannot be grasped in its complexity by a reductionist analysis. Another historiographical approach that can shed new light on the popular revolt of 1904 situates it in the context of its links to the history of the smallpox vaccine and its diffusion. Viewing the episode as equally relevant to the history of science and technology, this article proposes to “vaccinate the Vaccine Revolt”—that is, to reintroduce the smallpox vaccine as a protagonist in the events—highlighting the need to treat the revolt as a chapter of a sociotechnical history; after all, what could be more sociotechnical than a technoscientific artifact that gave its name to a popular revolt? This is a history of scientists convinced of the superiority of their technical knowledge and of their right to exercise their power for the good of the public, who would be obliged to comply; most of all, it is a history without the problematic distinctions between content and context, between rationality and irrationality, between science and society. It is also a history of the popular mobilization on the streets of downtown Rio de Janeiro, exemplified by the vigorous resistance mounted in the working-class neighborhood of Saúde under the command of the Black man known as Prata Preta, which serves as a counterpoint to top-down historical narratives more concerned with the comings and goings of White political elites and coup-plotting, positivist-inspired generals, marked by the symptomatic exclusion of Black and working-class actors. It also serves to emphasize the symptomatic absence of the voice of Prata Preta, who was imprisoned and summarily banished without any due process. The fact that he was silenced has made it easier to construct allegories about “the people,” portraying them as heroic opponents of elite oppression or the exact opposite: an antiheroic, dangerous, and disposable rabble. Among the entourage of characters who have been silenced, one should also note the absence of women’s voices; although vaccine opponents rallied around the claim that they were defending against the “violation” of women’s bodies, nothing was heard from women’s mouths. Finally, revisiting the history of the Vaccine Revolt offers another opportunity to unmask the project of an authoritarian political, military, and scientific elite, with a particular focus on Oswaldo Cruz, one of Brazil’s greatest champions of science. In the name of science and public health, that elite envisioned a modern Brazil, while remaining ignorant of the daily nightmare lived by the vast majority of the Black, poor, and marginalized population.

Article

In Brazil, the national public health apparatus became one of the most agile and expansive regulatory mechanisms of control and care during the 19th and early 20th centuries. As Brazilian doctors and social thinkers made public health central to their ideas of modernizing the nation, they simultaneously sought to challenge the notion that Brazil’s sociocultural and racial-ethnic diversity was an insurmountable obstacle to modernization. They conceived of public health as something greater than the sum of its parts, seeing it is as the best prescription for national unity and fundamental to the project of nation-building, not only as a series of practices, outcomes, and beliefs. Proto-psychiatrists, recognizing the ideological momentum and bureaucratic strength of public health, seized upon it as a means and a rationale to ground their therapeutic ideas and treatments. Their characterization of the indigent mentally ill on city streets in Rio de Janeiro as a public health issue politicized both the mentally ill and mental illness as subjects of public intervention. Fashioning themselves as the leading experts in this effort, they garnered the support of state officials and other doctors to create a series of public institutions, organizations, and other measures to treat the mentally ill as unitary intersections of psychiatry and public health. While Brazilian psychiatrists during the late 19th and 20th centuries surely went into private practice, professional psychiatry in Rio as a field turned toward returning irrational minds to reason and “civilizing” the publicly unwell—dual and deeply complex goals of the profession. Public health offered them a preexisting muscular infrastructure through which to practice their medical knowledge and, in so doing, allowed them to expand and legitimize their professional reach. So, under the auspices of an enterprising psychiatric field, mental health largely became public health.

Article

Ela Miljkovic

As in many areas of the world, in Mexico ambient air pollution is a pervasive component of the lived experience. Most conspicuous in large urban centers, air pollution flows across the diverse Mexican terrain, unifying the country’s political geography while also routinely permeating international boundaries. In Mexico’s capital, air pollution is unyieldingly stagnant and often lingers in the valley for days during winter temperature inversions and periods of low wind activity. Although Mexico City has long suffered from seasonal dust pollution, a consequence of the slow, human-engineered desiccation of the lakes that once surrounded the city, as well as from pollution naturally generated by the relatively more sporadic volcanic eruptions known to afflict the city and its environs, the mid-20th century spawned an altogether different, more human pollution problem. Driven by state-sponsored industrialization, population growth, and a rise in the use of motorized transportation, a phase collectively known as the “Mexican Miracle,” from approximately the 1940s to the 1990s, Mexico City transformed into an industrial powerhouse and the most polluted city in the world, the latter status officially recognized by the United Nations during the Earth Summit in 1992. The state, dedicated to carrying out its comprehensive modernization project, had left Mexico City’s air pollution to fester for decades, framing the legal protection of the environment—atmosphere included—as antithetical to economic growth. This rhetoric pervaded the ways that antipollution laws, passed in the 1970s and 1980s, were enforced. Though they set into motion important classification and monitoring efforts, for the most part air pollution control laws were poorly executed due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and the collapse of the economy, which halted spending on environmental protection programs. Other spheres such as science and environmental activism were also important in the history of Mexico City’s experience with air pollution, as actors within these realms contributed to the creation of air pollution knowledge throughout the second half of the 20th century. In their own ways, scientists and activists discursively rendered air pollution a threat to human life and the ecological future of Mexico City. From the 1940s to the 1990s, then, dirty air connected politics, science, and environmentally minded citizens in important and intriguing ways.

Article

Fieldwork in Latin America and the Caribbean has played a major role in the development of the modern science of ecology––the study of organisms’ relationships with one another and the physical environment. Since the colonial era, natural historical knowledge had grown and circulated through expeditions and naturalists’ encounters with indigenous and enslaved people’s environmental knowledge. Observations of the life histories, behavior, and geographical distribution of the regions’ species laid the groundwork for the emergence of ecology as a self-conscious discipline during the late 19th century. Major figures in the foundation of ecology were inspired by travel throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and especially by the large number and variety of species found in rainforests and other tropical areas. The growth of colonial and independent national scientific institutions––including botanical gardens, museums, and geographical surveys––also created important foundations for ecological research, although these were primarily oriented toward agricultural and economic improvement. As field stations specifically devoted to ecological research emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, long-term, place-based studies of living organisms became possible for the first time. Research at such institutions helped to shape key ecological concepts––including the ecological community, ecosystems, and species diversity––and contributed directly to the rise of the biodiversity ideal in conservation. Despite their historic importance, field studies in Latin America and the Caribbean remain significantly underrepresented in ecology in the early 21st century.

Article

Scholarship on Latin America’s medical history has traditionally relied on collections located in specific countries that are housed in national and regional archives, universities, medical schools, and government institutions. Digitized source repositories and reference websites will make these materials more accessible for researchers and students, and it is likely that digitized content will become increasingly available in the coming years. In the 21st century, various institutions in Latin America and the United States have made a concerted effort to digitize materials related to the study of health and medicine in Latin America. This effort is the product of advancements in technology that make digital preservation of material possible, as well as a growing awareness that not all archival collections, especially in Latin America, are stored in optimal conditions. The push for digitization, therefore, is centered on two primary goals: first, to make resources more available to researchers and remove obstacles to the use of archival collections, including accessibility and physical distance or travel restrictions, and second, to preserve materials in danger of decay or neglect from storage in subpar conditions. The digitization of a broad array of materials, including historical documents, newspapers, popular culture, photographs, music, and audio recordings, fosters greater use of these collections by researchers, teachers, and students inside and outside of Latin America and enhanced interaction with the institutions that maintain the digital and original collections. While not exhaustive, these sites demonstrate the extensive range of digitized sources available for the study of Latin America’s medical history. Materials span from the pre-Columbian through modern periods; the priority is collections with significant 20th-century content, but those focused on the colonial period and the 19th century are noted. The collections tap into several historiographical themes and discussions prominent in Latin American medical history, including questions about individual agency and the role of the state in administering health and medical initiatives; race, gender, and discriminatory health practices; social issues, such as prostitution and alcoholism, as public health concerns; debates about who can produce medical knowledge; the creation of medical professionalism and medical authority; and Pan-Americanism and the role of United States influence on Latin American health programs. The pace of digitization has been uneven across Latin America. A country’s wealth and access to resources determines the extent to which materials can be digitized, as do political considerations and legislation regarding transparency. Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina are well represented in the entries, and the collections are either supported by national institutions, such as universities, libraries, or government archives, or sponsored by grants that facilitate the digitization of materials. For example, the collection from Peru relies on a UK-based charitable foundation for its existence. Digital collections based in the United States are located in archival institutions and research centers and focus on the activities of Inter-American, Pan-American, and philanthropic organizations, although not exclusively. Digitized collections greatly improve accessibility to sources related to Latin American medical history, but also depend on the user’s ability to navigate different interfaces and knowledge in how to limit and target searches. Many of the sites allow for keyword searches and the opportunity to browse collections; therefore, a user’s familiarity with the topic, scope, and keywords of a collection will determine the usefulness of search results. Where downloadable material is available, it is provided free of charge, and most of these repositories state a commitment to open access and to growing their digital collections.