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Natural History, Exploration, and Landscape in 19th-Century Chile  

Patience Schell

In the early 19th century, in recently independent Chile, a symbiosis emerged between various governments, on the one hand, and Chilean and foreign naturalists, on the other, who all realized that there was much to learn about Chile scientifically, and that this scientific knowledge had a range of uses. This joint interest resulted in state-sponsored projects and private trips that included mapping, investigating Chile’s natural resources, and gathering flora and fauna for cataloguing, collecting, and exchanging. Traveling naturalists, government-sponsored surveyors, amateur enthusiasts, and foreign visitors journeyed through Chile by foot, mule, horse, boat, and, eventually, train, heading north and south, to the mountains, plains, desert, and coast, in small and large groups, appropriating local knowledge, gathering materials, taking measurements, and writing letters, reports, and books on what they found, who they met, and what opportunities these regions offered. These trips contributed to the development of museums and collections in Chile and beyond, and to the discipline of natural history in Chile. Moreover, the circulation of objects and publications, not just in Chile but transnationally, brought Chile’s flora, fauna, and geography to greater international awareness and also into scientific discussions. This natural history work also contributed to cultural change and territorial expansion, generating ideas about territories as hospitable or hostile, dreary or picturesque, offering opportunity or being without development potential. As these naturalists and explorers built on each other’s opinions, they created an accepted narrative about particular landscapes and geographies that moved into other arenas. In the 1840s and 1850s, one of these narratives was that the southern region of the indigenous Mapuche people, militarily occupied and incorporated into Chile (1860–1883), was both a landscape of impenetrable forests and constant rain and a picturesque landscape of fertile opportunity for Chilean national development, presuming the “right” settlers could be attracted. Meanwhile, the arid north, including the Atacama Desert, over which Chile went to war with Bolivia and Peru (the War of the Pacific, 1879–1884), was depicted as hostile, monotonous, and dangerous, with little aesthetic merit, but also as a region that offered opportunities through its mineral wealth. The snow-capped Andes and fertile valleys of central Chile, in which the capital Santiago and the main port city of Valparaíso are located, became landscapes that represented the nation. Thus, naturalists contributed to greater scientific knowledge about Chile, building collections and inserting new flora, fauna, and geography into global scientific debates, while also creating draft meanings about particular landscapes and regions that spread well beyond natural history.


Paraguayan Science and the Environment: A Historical Survey  

Robert W. Wilcox

Much of environmental knowledge understood by an evolving scientific world from the early explorations of Europeans to the 21st century has originated in colonial possessions or developing nations. Observations by explorers, colonial officials, and visiting scientists to Latin America stimulated considerable interest in North Atlantic scientific circles, yet the contributions of Indigenous peoples, clergymen, and local scientists in furthering natural science/environmental knowledge often have received little attention from the historical community. This has begun to change in the 21st century, and roles of small nations are beginning to be recognized, including Paraguay. From the early colonial period, Paraguay was considered something of a promised land with abundant natural life and resources and, as such, a focus of interest for many aspiring practitioners of natural science, including members of the Catholic Church. By the late 18th century, traditional observational approaches conflicted with evolving European scientific rationalism, while political independence in the early 19th century generated attempts across the Americas to understand nature and environmental conditions through the imperative of economic growth. In Paraguay, this was delayed by national politics and war, but later in the century, the country embarked on a tentative path of economic development. While many observers criticized the impact of development practices, environmental science gradually transformed into a “scientific nationalism,” defined through the concept of a national nature. This evolved into developmentalist imperatives by the mid-20th century, leading to rapid degradation of the natural world. In the 21st century, the country is facing an environmental crisis, suffering some of the most extensive deforestation and related ecological destruction in the world. The convoluted path Paraguayan environmental science followed from early awed impressions to today’s critical concerns provides some insight into how scientists in poor and remote regions engaged with their natural worlds and attempted to understand nature in the face of multiple pressures: economic, political, and scientific.


Zoos in Latin America  

Regina Horta Duarte

Modern zoos emerged as mass entertainment, spaces of public leisure and of culture. In the past, they served as monuments and expressions of the degree of “civilization” and progress of a city and its respective country. In Latin America, zoos date from the last quarter of the 19th century. The history of Latin American zoos is a political, cultural, and social history. The conditions of their creation and operation over the decades have conferred important specificities to these institutions. Since their inception, zoos in Latin America have reflected nationalistic aspirations, civilizational projects, and social transformation. Over the decades, the history of many zoos has blended with natural history in Latin America, as many zoo founders were important scientists. The development of new sensitivities toward animals also follows the history of zoos in Latin America from the beginning, because the first animal protection societies appeared at the same time. Today, zoos face vigorous claims from animal rights activists calling for their closure. In view of so many challenges, these institutions are reinventing themselves with an increased focus on conservation and environmental education, joining international zoological societies with high standards of quality. Among several of these societies, the Latin American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (ALPZA) stands out. Founded in 1990, ALPZA organizes, reshapes, and integrates Latin American zoos, establishing global connections. Various actors play a role in the defense and contestation of zoos, such as politicians, scientists, conservationists, animal protection societies, anti-zoo activists, visitors, administrators, officials, and, of course, thousands of wild animals from all over the world who have lived in Latin American cities for decades.