Thematic Collection: The Environment and Modernity in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Latin America

Thematic Collection: The Environment and Modernity in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Latin America

Curated by Christopher Valesey

Thematic Collections are assortments of 3-5 past and recently released articles in HAHR about key issues, events, individuals, or historiographical trends. These collections can be used as gateways into a specific historical subject, demonstrations of methodology, or sources for classroom discussion.

With concerns about climate change, waste, and conservation mounting in the twenty-first century, historical research on the environment is flourishing. Using a range of methods, this growing literature highlights the multitude of ways that humans engaged with the environment in the past. HAHR’s first Thematic Collection spotlights four pertinent articles centering around human interactions with the environment in Latin America in the centuries following independence. The four articles grouped together collectively represent relevant scholarship in four different Latin American countries: Mexico, Colombia, Chile, and Honduras.

Taken together, these articles show that in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Latin America, environmental history was deeply connected to an array of topics associated with modernity, such as the development of the state, expressions of patriotism, and the growth of major corporations like United Fruit Company. Each author approaches his or her topic with distinct source-genres and methods, ranging from assessments of public works reports to the use of concepts from the field of agroecology. Yet despite the variety of countries, sources, and methodologies discussed within these articles, they jointly spotlight how human interactions with the environment became a major source of tension or national pride after independence.


Matthew Vitz’s “‘The Lands with Which We Shall Struggle’: Land Reclamation, Revolution, and Development in Mexico’s Lake Texcoco Basin, 1910-1950” shows the “tension between state hydraulic projects and popular conceptions of land and resource use” (41).

Nancy Appelbaum’s “Reading the Past on the Mountainsides of Colombia: Mid-Nineteenth-Century Patriotic Geology, Archaeology, and Historiography” highlights the role of geology in the development of patriotic narratives.

Thomas Miller Klubock’s “The Politics of Forests and Forestry on Chile’s Southern Frontier, 1880s-1940s” explores the development of state-directed forest management and its relationship to conflicts between landowners and peasants for the control of land.

John Soluri’s “People, Plants, and Pathogens: The Eco-social Dynamics of Export Banana Production in Honduras, 1875-1950” shows how “the evolution of production practices on banana farms responded to both local agroecological change and international market standards developed in the United States and Europe” (478).

Mikael D. Wolfe’s “The Climate of Conflict: Politico-environmental Press Coverage and the Eruption of the Mexican Revolution, 1907–1911” analyzes the understudied climate-society dynamics surrounding the Mexican Revolution, incorporating this event into the global historiography on climate and rebellion.