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.
Robert W. Wilcox
Nísia Trindade Lima and Tamara Rangel Vieira
In Brazilian social thought, the sertão is understood more in a symbolic than a geographic manner and thus does not have a precise spatial characterization. As a result, many places have been identified as such in the history of Brazil. Analyzing the vast repertoire of meanings given to the idea of sertão, the absence of the state can be seen as a characteristic that distinguishes it, irrespective of the period considered. In this sense, the relations between space and social thought or between space and interpretations of Brazil are emphasized, highlighting the sertão–coast dualism which emerged following the publication of Euclides da Cunha’s Os Sertões as one of the possible ways of understanding the historical formation of the country. This dualism can be observed in distinct periods ranging from the literature about the scientific missions in the early 1900s to the debates about the construction of Brasília in the middle of the same century. Representations of the sertão in medical writings, sociological thought, literature, and film evince the resilience of this category as an ongoing metaphor for understanding Brazil.