Special Topics in Latin American History: "Environmental History in Latin America"

History 100E

Summer 2016
First 6 Week Session
56 Barrows
Day & Time: 
MTuWTh 10-12 P

How have human beings shaped the natural world? How have natural forces impacted the patterns of human life? This class will consider both of these questions in the context of Latin America, looking at the impact of humans on the environment and at climate, topography, plants, animals, and microorganisms as a factor in human history. The course spans from the colonial encounter to global capitalism in the 20th century—from the biological impact of the European conquest of the Americas to recent social movements and the roots of the current global ecological crisis. Despite the dramatic changes in technology and infrastructure over this time, we will also see continuities such as the continuing struggles of indigenous communities negotiating with other local, national, and international groups and institutions demanding the right to control resources and set the terms of their relationship with the natural world. Topics will include the division and distribution of agrarian land, resource extraction, urbanization, the exchange of commodities, and the development of infrastructure across Latin America. We will also consider how ideas about development and modernization have become manifest on the physical environment and how these forces have interacted with both nature and political power to shape local and national histories. We will look closely at the role of the state in managing the environment and mediating conflicts as well as the ways that the relationship between civilization and nature reflects or exacerbates problems of inequality and access. These questions and others will reflect on the ways cultural, scientific, political, and philosophical attitudes toward the environment have changed over time. Students will develop an understanding of major environmental issues across Latin America and the history of environmental activism.