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Digital Resources: The Hijuelas Collection  

Matthew Butler and David A. Bliss

The Hijuelas project is a multi-domain international collaboration that makes available in digital form a large and valuable source on nineteenth-century indigenous history––the so-called libros de hijuelas or deed books recording the statewide privatization of indigenous lands in Michoacán, Mexico. These deed books, 194 in total, have been digitized and described over a two-year period by a team of History students from Michoacán’s state university, the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás Hidalgo (UMSNH), trained by and working under the supervision of archivists of the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies-Benson Latin American Collection of (LLILAS Benson) of the University of Texas at Austin. Additional logistical support has been provided by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) as a partner institution in Mexico of the University of Texas at Austin and by the state government of Michoacán via the Archivo General e Histórico del Poder Ejecutivo de Michoacán (AGHPEM), which is custodian of the hijuelas books. The project was generously funded by the British Library through its Endangered Archives Programme (EAP 931, “Conserving Indigenous Memories of Land Privatization in Mexico: Michoacán’s Libros de Hijuelas, 1719–1929”). The project seeks to be innovative in two ways. As a post-custodial archiving project, first and foremost, it uses digital methods to make easily accessible to historians, anthropologists, and indigenous communities the only consolidated state-level record of the land privatizations (reparto de tierras) affecting Mexican indigenous communities in the 19th century. It therefore projects digitally a key source for historians and one that possesses clear identitarian and agrarian importance for indigenous communities. It also makes widely available a source that is becoming physically unstable and inaccessible because of the difficult public security conditions affecting Michoacán. As a collaboration involving diverse institutional actors, furthermore, the project brings together institutions from three different countries and is an example of what may be achieved through equitable international collaborations.

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Palm Oil and Afro-Brazilian Cultures  

Case Watkins

Palm oil is fundamental in Afro-Brazilian cultures, economies, and ecologies. Perhaps no other single material is as essential to Afro-Brazilian identities and cosmologies as is palm oil. Known in Brazil as dendê, or more precisely, azeite de dendê, palm oil exemplifies the intricate relations linking cultures and environments in the African diaspora. During colonial overseas expansion, the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) crossed the Atlantic to become a transformative but underappreciated African contribution to cultures and ecologies in the Americas. In Brazil, the palm interspersed within mangrove ecosystems, secondary forests, shifting agriculture, and diversified agroforests on the coasts of Bahia, creating complex landscapes and economies that supplied palm oil for a variety of Afro-Brazilian cultural expressions. In complement to those landscapes of domestically produced dendê, by the 18th century, transatlantic commercial networks had begun importing palm oil in bulk from West and Central Africa to Bahia. Along with a range of other ancestral goods, including colorful West African textiles and stimulating kola nuts, African palm oil served as an essential base material in growing Afro-Brazilian foodways, aesthetics, and religions. When these trades fell into decline in the late 19th century, demand for locally produced palm oil spiked, and Bahia’s domestic economy consolidated regional dendê cultures, ecologies, and markets. In the 21st century, palm oil remains integral in Afro-Brazilian identities and cultures, and complex traditional landscapes continue to supply local and national markets. Enduring as a living monument to resistance in the African diaspora, dendê provides livelihoods for rural communities, the unmistakeable flavor of Afro-Brazilian foodways, and a sacred symbol and ritual element in Afro-Brazilian religions.