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Agriculture and Biodiversity in Latin America in Historical Perspective  

Angus Wright

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.


Air Pollution in Mexico City  

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.


The Alphabetic Colonization of Amerindian Oral Ecologies in Early Brazil  

Diogo de Carvalho Cabral

Although it has received less scholarly attention than firearms, microbes, domestic animals and plants, market economy, and statecraft, alphabetic reading and writing was crucial in the European conquest and colonization of the Americas from the late 15th century on. Unlike the agrarian empires the Spaniards encountered in the Andes and the Mexican highlands, the Portuguese frontier advanced upon tribal peoples who relied exclusively on oral language, such as the Tupi of Atlantic Brazil. These were semi-sedentary horticultural villagers whose entire socio-ecology (myths and knowledge, territoriality, subsistence strategies, etc.) was conditioned by the face-to-faceness and fugacity of spoken words. In turn, their Portuguese colonizers—for a while rivaled by the French, who enjoyed short periods of stable settlement through the early 17th century—were urban-based, oceangoing merchants, bureaucrats, soldiers, and religious missionaries whose organization strictly depended on the durability and transferability of written texts. Even if most of the Portuguese who came to Brazil in the 16th century were themselves illiterate, colonization as a social enterprise framed their actions according to prescribed roles set down in writing (both handwriting and printed script). Thus, the Portuguese colonization of Brazilian native lands and human populations can be interpreted from the point of view of the imposition of an alphabetically organized way of life. Two major dimensions of this “letterscaping” can be discerned as to its impact on Amerindian bodies (human and nonhuman) and modes of understanding. Although the 16th century was only the introductory act in that drama, its historical record shows the basic outlines of the alphabetic colonization that would play out through the early 19th century: native decimation and enslavement, territory usurpation by sesmaria grants, forest recovery in former native croplands (then resignified as “virgin forest”), loss of native ecological knowledge not recorded in writing, disempowerment of native cultural attunement to the wild soundscape, among other processes.


Amazon Development  

Antoine Acker

While historically “Amazon” could refer to a river, a basin, and later a forest, it has been shaped into a coherent regional space by the development politics of governments, companies, and nongovernmental organizations throughout the 20th century, concealing a more complex cultural and ecological reality. Development discourses ignored the human technologies existing prior to the 16th century and drew on the imaginary of a “pristine” jungle, which actually resulted from the human depopulation that occurred in the Amazon during colonization. Colonialism (17th–19th centuries), nonetheless, connected the region to the global economy, indirectly leading to the “rubber boom” (1880–1920), when the Amazon became indispensable to the second industrial revolution. After state and business actors led different operations meant to “modernize” the region in the first half of the 20th century, “developing” the Amazon became a major target of the Brazilian government in the decades following World War II. The politics of the military regime that ruled from 1964 to 1984 in particular drove the expansion of roadways, cattle-ranching, mining, and dams. While statistically creating economic growth, this trend had disastrous consequences for nature, Indigenous livelihoods, and labor relations, which mobilized scientists, activists, and local communities against it. Yet, although by the 1990s the developmentalist model was highly contested, social and environmental movements did not manage to gather society behind a new consensus for the Amazon. Attempts to put development at the service of reducing inequalities and to reinforce environmental legislation achieved certain (mitigated) success in the early 21st century, but they did not prevent deforestation and land conflicts from trending upwards after 2015, threatening the Amazon’s very existence.


Amazonian Frontiers: Borderlines, Internal Frontiers, and Political Ecology of Amazonia  

Germán Palacio

In dealing with the intersection between Amazonia and frontiers, Amazonia, understood as a region, is a recent construction that cannot be confused with the Amazon as river. Its meaning is related to the idea of Panamazonia, a multinational region. In terms of frontiers, there is a distinction between borderlines with their main ramifications, borderlands, and internal frontiers. From a historical point of view, both, borderlines and “internal frontiers” approaches must be taken into account simultaneously when dealing with the Amazonian frontiers. From a chronological point of view, in brief, a borderline was traced in the late 15th century in a contest between the Portuguese and the Castile and Aragon crowns over the Atlantic. At the beginning of the 16th century, Iberian people arrived at Pará, what today is part of Brazil. They found transformed lowlands landscapes by indigenous people of several linguistic and ethnic origins. The British, Dutch, and French crowns were able to settle in the “Caribbean” Amazonia, the Guianas. Later on, during the second part of the 17th century, Portuguese people started to expand successfully from the east to the west following up the Big River. The Spanish crown only decided to deal with Portuguese expansion in the middle of the 18th century through diplomatic negotiations. Well into the 19th century definitive demarcations in the framework of nation-state building became evident, and this becomes a priority for these independent nation-states, particularly due to the economic importance of two highly valued commodities: quinine, and rubber. The process of establishing borderlines became firmly decided around the middle of the 20th century, and with few exceptions. While the process of establishing borders has almost concluded, the material appropriation of frontier landscapes is still taking place. The current appropriation of Amazonian lands is, probably, in its last stage. It is extremely conflictive in some cases, such as in Peru and Colombia, because of internal armed conflict, illegal extractivism, and drug dealing. It also involves a dispute between forces associated with development projects and forces of conservation during the late 20th century and the turning of this new century, all in a context of the environmental globalization of the Amazonia. This has implied a redefinition of the territorial role of the Amazonian nation-states. Therefore, it is more proper to analyze this last stage as a political ecology of the appropriation of Amazonian frontiers.


Animal Perspectives: Nonhuman Creatures’ Roles in Modern Latin America  

Stephen Neufeld

In the national era of Latin American history, animals played various and significant roles. The 19th century brought to bear forces of industrialization and urbanization that altered how humans and animals interacted. While humans continued to rely on animals through the 20th century, the changes spurred during the 19th century Anthropocene (the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment) led to new human–animal relations and reshaped traditional ones. Animals represented a driving economic force as a commodity, as transport, as labor, and as raw capital in the growing national republics. In and of themselves, they embodied the nation as symbols and as a part of the broader discourses that marked rural lifeways. As companions and pets, they enjoyed human protection and care, yet as prey and props, they also faced cruel destruction through hunting, blood sports, and vermin control. They caused disease and carried vaccines. And so, from the deepest wilderness of the region to the busiest city boulevard, the human history of Latin America took form in venues inhabited by fauna whose uses, and presence, shaped human life. A better understanding of these nonhuman animals’ histories changes our focus and situates animals as a vital element in Latin American societies.


Animals in Latin American History  

Germán Vergara

The evolutionary history of vertebrate nonhuman animals such as mammals in what is now Latin America extends back tens of millions of years. Given that anatomically modern humans first appeared in Africa a mere 200,000 years ago and would not reach Latin America until some 12,000 years ago, nonhuman animals in the region evolved for most of their history without interference from human activities. Once they appeared, humans began to shape the history of the region’s animals in profound ways. In fact, one could argue that animal history in Latin America has been a story of increasing human impact; from the Paleo-Indians, who may have driven countless species of megafauna to extinction; to the agrarian societies that domesticated species such as dogs, turkeys, and llamas (or tolerated the animals’ self-domestication); to the radical transformations brought about by the Columbian Exchange; to the industrialization process of the last two centuries. But animal history in the region is also marked by adaptation and agency on the part of animals, who have influenced the course of human history. This dynamic and adaptive human–animal relationship has been pushed to the limit during extinction pulses, manifest in the currently accelerating biodiversity crisis. Environmental history makes the convincing case that any historical account that neglects the environment offers an inaccurate depiction of the past. By the same token, animal historians suggest that a more complete understanding of history requires redefining its boundaries to include the often underappreciated story of nonhuman species and their interrelationships with human societies.


Architecture in 20th-Century Brazil  

Fernando Luiz Lara

Brazilian modern architecture was widely celebrated in the 1940s and 1950s as a tropical branch of Corbusian architecture. While there is truth and depth to the influence of Le Corbusier in Brazil, the architecture of this country is much more than simply an application of his principles to a warmer climate. Moreover, Brazilian 20th-century architecture cannot be defined only by a few decades in which their buildings coincided with and reinforce northern expectations. Many contemporary authors have explored the pervasive nature of such ethnocentrism in architectural history, which denies agency and initiative to anyone outside its intellectual borders. A more adequate analysis must give proper emphasis to Brazilian architects’ motivations and agency, exploring in their main buildings how they struggled to express themselves and their societal aspirations by skillfully manipulating a formal and spatial vocabulary of international modernity. A contemporary study of Brazilian 20th-century architecture would not be worthy of its title if it did not address similar double standards that have been applied domestically. It is paramount to understand that the influence of modernism in the built environment reached way beyond the well-known centers of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and its manifestations go way beyond the high modernism of the 1940s and 50s. The ethnocentrism of the global North Atlantic repeats itself in Brazil, with the architectures of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo overshadowing all others. If Brazilian architecture in general is not well known, notwithstanding its extraordinary achievements, still less known are the buildings erected in Recife, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, and Salvador, to mention only four other major urban centers, or the hundreds of buildings in medium-size cities with as much quality and intentionality as those of Rio and São Paulo.


Banana Industry in Central America  

Kevin Coleman

From the earliest days of Spanish and Portuguese colonial rule up until the late 19th century, banana cultivation in the Americas was carried out mostly by smallholders. That changed around 1880, when schooner captains based in Boston and New Orleans began to buy bananas in the Caribbean and sell them in the United States. In the geographically small countries of Central America, a couple of US-based banana companies have wielded enormous influence. The United Fruit Company (now known as Chiquita) acquired so much power in Guatemala and Honduras that it came to function as a state within a state, giving rise to the notion of “banana republics.” The company consolidated its power through various means: it installed authoritarian civilian and military governments that gave concessions to land, railroads, and ports; it divided its labor force along ethnic and racial lines; it built hospitals, schools, workers’ barracks, and houses for its management; and it used massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides in a capital intensive effort to cultivate varieties of the fruit that North American consumers came to expect but which were susceptible to Panama disease and Black Sigatoka. Bananas and plantains are a dietary staple throughout the tropics, and the diseases that beset the Gros Michel and Cavendish varieties that are grown on monocrop plantations threaten a vital source of healthy and relatively cheap calories that much of the world has come to rely upon. In recent years, consumers and civil society groups have organized to demand more socially and environmentally responsible bananas, creating organic and “fair trade” alternatives to conventional “free trade” bananas.


Cattle in Latin American History  

Andrew Sluyter

People on other continents had been raising domesticated cattle for millennia, mainly breeds of humped zebu (Bos indicus) in the tropics and of humpless taurine (Bos taurus) in temperate latitudes by the time the first cattle reached the Americas in 1493. From an initial beachhead on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, by the close of the 16th century, cattle had reached ranching frontiers throughout the region, from New Spain to the Pampas of the Río de la Plata. While regional varieties of cattle—such as the Corriente of Mexico, the Longhorn of the borderlands, and the Criollo of the Pampas—developed on each of the frontiers, they shared many characteristics: an emphasis on raising large herds of feral cattle on an open range to the virtual exclusion of crops in order to produce hides, tallow, and beef. Over the colonial period, herders pushed into new frontiers, and their social, cultural, and environmental characteristics became differentiated through the hybridization of antecedent African, European, and Indigenous practices. In addition to ranching, cattle became central to many other aspects of colonial societies, incorporated into farming to provide meat and dairy products as well as used as draft animals to pull carts and plows and power sugar and grain mills. Cattle had a major impact on Indigenous peoples, who not only adopted them into their agricultural systems but also suffered crop damage from free-ranging herds. In terms of environmental impacts, cattle herding had a broad impact on the vegetation of grasslands through grazing, rangeland burning, and the introduction of African grasses. Throughout much of Latin America, the end of the colonial period in the 19th century resulted in not only an expansion of cattle ranching but also the closing of the open range. The opening of export markets, urbanization, growing domestic markets, technological changes such as wire fences and refrigerated shipping, genocidal wars against Indigenous peoples to open new ranching frontiers, and the abolition of slavery all irrevocably altered the patterns and processes established during colonial times. Enclosing pastures with wire fences, for example, permitted ranchers to control breeding and thereby maintain European breeds such as Aberdeen Angus and Hereford that largely replaced Longhorns and other colonial breeds. In the 20th century, ranchers with herds of zebu breeds, such as Indubrasil, began to expand into new frontiers in tropical forests, particularly the Amazon, with immense impacts on Indigenous peoples and the environment.


César Moscoso Carrasco and Malaria Eradication in Bolivia  

Nicole L. Pacino

César Moscoso Carrasco (1904–1966), a central figure in Bolivia’s mid-20th-century public health system, wanted to liberate Bolivia from malaria. In a career that spanned three decades, he came close to achieving this goal, but ultimately did not live to see successful eradication. Moscoso was one of the first Bolivian public health specialists in malariology, and was recognized by the World Health Organization for his contributions to the field in 1963. At all stages of his career, he fortuitously aligned himself with the individual or organization that could help him accomplish his professional ambitions and his mission of eradicating malaria in Bolivia. He was the founder and director of the National Anti-Malaria Service in 1929, where he made a name for himself working to halt the spread of malaria in Mizque, in the Cochabamba region. In the 1940s, he secured a position with the Rockefeller Foundation, where he had access to resources beyond the scope of the Bolivian government and an international network of public health specialists. Finally, in the 1950s, he headed the newly formed National Service for Malaria Eradication, which was a Bolivian government initiative supported by international organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau. In the 1950s and 1960s, he came the closest to achieving his goal. Unfortunately, he died the same way he lived: fighting a disease, possibly malaria, which he contracted on a visit to Ceylon as a malaria expert and consultant. Moscoso’s life is a window into many aspects of Bolivia’s 20th-century history. First, his life story illustrates both the potential and limitations of the Bolivian healthcare system. Indeed, Moscoso often had to work with international or binational organizations to accomplish the work that he saw as necessary and important. Second, his career shows how political changes in Bolivia impacted healthcare. Since his career spans the Chaco War of 1932–1935, the politically tumultuous 1940s, and the 1952 National Revolution, it provides a personal account of how these events changed healthcare in Bolivia. His story demonstrates the hardships that Bolivian doctors faced as they worked to improve their healthcare system, including low pay, few resources, and little respect from their foreign colleagues.


Chile and the Pacific World  

Edward D. Melillo

Since the early 1800s, Chileans have imagined their nation’s history and destiny through an ever-changing array of transoceanic connections with the rest of the planet. At a deeper level, Chile’s relationship with the Pacific Ocean is built upon myriad collective memories and aspirational identities. The long arc of Chile’s linkages with the Pacific World—or the peoples and ecosystems in and around the Pacific Ocean—has yet to be fully explored by historians. This article fills this lacuna by analyzing five diverse historical episodes that span more than two centuries: first, Valparaíso’s growth into a Pacific commercial hub during the early 1800s; second, Chile’s role in the Californian and Australian gold rushes of the mid-1800s; third, the Chilean victory in the late-19th-century War of the Pacific; fourth, Chile’s burgeoning commercial relationship with China, which began in the years following the Second World War; and, finally, the emergence of a Chilean-Pacific variant of neoliberal ideology in the final decades of the 20th century. These five developments reveal a litany of ambiguities and antagonisms in Chile’s complicated, ongoing association with its western ocean.


Cochabamba’s 2000 Water War in Historical Perspective  

Sarah Hines

Water has long shaped economic, social, and political life in Bolivia’s highlands and valleys. As a result of dispossession under the Incas, the Spanish, and postcolonial governments, a small group of large landowners (hacendados) controlled most water sources in Bolivia’s most important agricultural valleys in Cochabamba by the end of the 19th century. Purchases of some of these estate (hacienda) sources and hydraulic infrastructure projects under military socialist governments in the late 1930s and early 1940s increased water access for independent smallholders (piqueros) and the growing urban population there, but water ownership and access remained highly unequal on the eve of Bolivia’s 1952 revolution. After seizing power in April 1952, the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario party passed an agrarian reform that provided for redistribution of hacienda land and water sources. Redistribution of previously hoarded water sources to estate tenants (colonos) transformed the region and the nation’s water tenure regime. But the reform excluded Cochabamba’s piqueros, landless peasants, and residents of the growing department capital. In the decades that followed, these groups worked to expand and protect their water access. City center residents protested shortages and rate hikes. Migrants to neighborhoods on the urban periphery built independent water supply and distribution systems. And peasants built and maintained irrigation infrastructure and fought efforts to drill deep wells that threatened shallow irrigation wells. These groups rallied behind the Misicuni Dam project, which promised to provide water for consumption, irrigation, and hydroelectricity, and faced off with the Inter-American Development Bank and Cochabamba’s municipal water company, SEMAPA. Contention and competition over water access and management, as well as residents’ autonomous management and contributions of labor to building water infrastructure, laid the basis for conflicts over water privatization in the 1990s. “Water wars” in Cochabamba in 2000 and in El Alto in 2005 forced the national government to cancel water administration contracts with transnational corporations and helped propel coca growers’ union leader Evo Morales to the presidency. Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, called a constituent assembly to refound the country in the interests of Indigenous people, workers, and the poor, fulfilling his promise to social movements. The resulting constitution enshrined a right to water access as well as Indigenous and peasant communities’ rights to manage water and other resources autonomously. At the urging of Morales’s government and water activists, the United Nations adopted a human right to water. While some Bolivian water activists supported these efforts, others have criticized the Morales government’s use of the concept of the human right to water to justify new rounds of water dispossession.


Coffee and the Formation of Modern Brazil, 1860–1914  

Rafael de Bivar Marquese

The coffee economy was decisive for the construction of independent Brazil. By the middle of the 19th century, the country was responsible for about half of the coffee global supply; in 1900, that number had increased to about three-quarters of the world’s production. In the Brazilian monarchical period (1822–1889) the center of the activity was located in the valley of the Paraiba do Sul river. Brazilian coffee production from its very beginnings demonstrated an inherent spatial mobility and a great demand for workers. Before 1850, labor supply was guaranteed by the transatlantic slave trade; after that, by an internal slave trade. The two basic characteristics of the coffee economy created during the era of slavery (the intensive exploitation of workers through the extensive exploitation of natural resources) were maintained after the crisis and the abolition of the institution (1888), when the center of the coffee economy moved to the West of São Paulo. Now counting on a new arrangement of free labor (the colonato) and on the subsidized immigration of European peasants, the São Paulo coffee economy in the new republican regime (founded in 1889) underwent a huge productive leap. Overproduction and falling prices became the new problem. The coffee valorization policy adopted by the State of São Paulo after 1906 and then the federal government indicates the reconfiguration of the class relations experienced in the new republican era, which nevertheless kept many of the historical structures of the slave legacy intact.


Conservation in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico  

Ariel E. Lugo

Conservation is a long-term process that unfolds over time and seeks to develop harmony between human activity and ecosystems of all types. The unfolding of conservation in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico took place over a period of over 140 years, beginning in 1876. The conservation process in Puerto Rico involved the description of the biodiversity, the understanding of forest dynamics in relation to the conditions prevailing in the Luquillo Mountains, extensive research on the life history of critical species, understanding the basis of forest resilience, recognizing the social-ecological-technological context of conservation, applying advanced technological tools, and resolving the inevitable conflict that develops among the different actors involved in the conservation effort. Unfolding conservation within a country requires continuous and effective support from governmental, non-governmental, business, and scientific sectors of the social-ecological-technological systems of the country. These sectors come together at different moments in time, and the path followed is different in different countries. In Puerto Rico, the unfolding of conservation was triggered by the government in close collaboration with academic and governmental scientific sectors. Within the Luquillo Mountains, the business sector did not oppose conservation activities, and the unfolding process reached high levels of effectiveness. The rest of Puerto Rico benefited from the conservation process unfolding on the Luquillo Mountains. In contrast, conservation in the Amazon has been characterized by conflict among different actors competing for a common resource. In general, commercial activities that are based on resource exploitation lead to conflict and a slower development of conservation activities. When the business community used science to improve land productivity, as it did in Central America, conservation benefited because the science that was used stimulated conservation values. The establishment of government institutions with a focus on conservation through research and education appeared late in the mainland tropics compared to Puerto Rico, but when it happened, it accelerated the unfolding of conservation. All the countries examined here were most effective in conservation when the collaboration among the different sectors of society was high and based on objective and anticipatory scientific activity.


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.


Disease, Ecology, and the Environment in Colonial Mexico  

Bradley Skopyk and Elinor G. K. Melville

The onset of Spanish imperial rule in Mexico in 1521 had profound consequences well beyond the political and cultural spheres. It also altered Mexico’s environment, reconstituting the region’s ecology as new fauna, flora, and microorganisms were added and as the population dynamics of native Mexican biota fluctuated in response to Old World arrivals. While the consequences of myriad interactions between native and non-native species were vast and complex, it was the decimation of indigenous persons by pathogens that was one of the first biological consequences of colonization (in fact, occurring first in 1520, one year before the fall of the Aztec state) and one of the most important. Mexican human populations were reduced by 80 to 90 percent, effecting cascading ecological consequences across the physical and biological geography of Mexico. Forests regenerated, terraced slopes degraded, and much of the Mexican landscape lost its anthropogenic aspect. Simultaneously, ungulate introductions transformed Mexican flora and likely initiated soil erosion in some regions that, when transported to fluvial environments, disrupted the flow of rivers. On the other hand, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, and other ungulates altered plant communities through selective seed dispersion. New economic pursuits such as brick making and silver mining increased demand for heat energy that, in an unprecedented manner, encouraged intensive forest usage and, probably, regional deforestation, although empirical data on historical forest cover are still lacking. Severe climate variability, of a scale not experienced for at least five hundred years and perhaps many millennia, occurred simultaneously with colonial-induced ecological change. A significant conquest-era drought was followed by one of the coolest and wettest periods of the Holocene; a strong pluvial in the Mexican context lasted from 1540 to around 1620. Subsequent anomalies of both temperature (cold) and precipitation (either wet or dry) occurred in the 1640s and 1650s, and from the 1690s until about 1705. Together, these climate anomalies are known as the core Little Ice Age, and initiated agrarian transitions, hazardous flooding, prolonged droughts, epidemics, epizootics, and recurring agrarian crises that destabilized human health and spurred high rates of mortality. Soil degradation and suppressed forest cover are also likely outcomes of this process. Although debate abounds regarding the timing, extent, and causes of soil and water degradation, there is little doubt that extensive degradation occurred and destabilized late-colonial and early-Republic societies.


Drought and Public Policy in Northeast Brazil  

Eve Buckley

The semi-arid interior of Brazil’s northeast region, known as the sertão, has long been subject to droughts. These can devastate the agricultural and ranching economy and cause serious hardship for the area’s inhabitants, particularly those who labor on farms and ranches belonging to the landowning elite. A prolonged drought in the late 1870s led the Brazilian government to begin soliciting advice from engineers about how to redress the periodic crisis. In 1909 the federal government established a permanent federal agency, the Inspectorate for Works to Combat Drought, to undertake reservoir construction throughout the sertão along with other measures that would alleviate future droughts. In subsequent decades the activities of the drought agency expanded to include constructing irrigation networks around reservoirs and establishing agricultural experiment stations to teach sertanejo farmers improved methods of farming in semi-arid conditions. Although powerful landowners lobbied for federal aid to construct reservoirs, which helped to sustain their own cattle herds through drought years, they were often opposed to initiatives like the establishment of irrigated smallholder colonies around reservoirs, which threatened to alter the social order in the sertão. Support for the federal drought agency’s work waxed and waned during the 20th century under different presidential administrations. Often it would rise in response to a period of damaging drought, then diminish once the crisis abated. Droughts have affected the sertão at irregular intervals since at least the colonial era. They vary in temporal duration and geographic expanse. Their impact on human populations depends on how the area of reduced rainfall overlaps with human settlement patterns and land use. Over the 20th century the years in which drought most severely impacted human communities (including crops and livestock) in the sertão included 1915, 1919–1920, 1931–1932, 1942, 1951–1953, 1958, 1970, 1979–1983, and 1998–1999. These are the periods when local, state, and federal governments received the most persistent pleas for assistance from affected populations. The precise cause of droughts in the region is debated, but they are thought to be triggered by changes in major wind patterns, particularly the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), that prevent Atlantic Ocean precipitation from reaching the sertão.


Drought and the Origins of the Mexican Revolution  

Mikael D. Wolfe

What role did drought play in the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution of 1910? Although historians of the Mexican Revolution acknowledge that the effects of drought helped catalyze it, they have not explored in any depth what connects drought to revolution. Instead, they usually subsume it within a more general discussion of agricultural cycles to explain the conduct and fortunes of popular revolutionary armies. In particular, they reference the onset of drought between 1907 and 1909 as exacerbating an economic downturn induced by severe recession in the United States. By then, Mexico had become economically integrated with its northern neighbor through rapidly growing foreign investment, trade, and cross-border migration facilitated by the railroad transportation revolution. These socioeconomic and ecological factors together led to steep declines in wages and earnings, devastating crop failures, spikes in food prices (principally corn and beans), and even famine in the lower and middle classes. Although suggestive, such passing references to drought in the historiography of the revolution do not furnish a clear picture of its effects and how they may have contributed to social and political conflict. In the 21st century, new technologies, methods, and sources—from historical meteorological reports and climate-related accounts gleaned from archival sources to modern historical climatological data reconstructions—facilitate doing more rigorous climate history. This article provides a sampling of these methods and sources on the role of drought in late 19th- and early 20th-century Mexico that can supplement, elucidate, and even revise our understanding of the origins of the Mexican Revolution.


Earthquakes in Colonial Peru  

Judith Mansilla

Natural events have afflicted human societies periodically. They become disasters when their effects drastically alter and disrupt people’s quotidian patterns of life and political-economic organization. The chaos and distress natural disasters produce require people to react immediately, taking essential measures to cope with post-disaster conditions. While in the early 21st century, technological and scientific tools permit human communities to prepare for certain forecastable natural events, or to expedite responses to sudden and unforeseen disasters, such resources were lacking in early modern times. The viceroyalty of Peru was one of the most valuable colonial territories of the Spanish monarchy. Located over a telluric region, most of this colonial area was prone to earthquakes. However, colonial society’s understanding of earthquakes, and other natural events, influenced its reactions and how authorities responded to disaster. Learning about earthquakes in colonial Peru unveils early modern strategies of crisis management, which included both material and spiritual assistance. Furthermore, it reminds us of human communities’ vulnerability, which may increase when faced with monumental challenges during post-disaster periods.