Positionality, Perception, and Possibility in Mexico's Valle del Mezquital

In the 1990s a scholarly debate ensued concerning Mexico's early-colonial environmental history. On one side of this debate, geographer Karl W. Butzer finds in the Bajío little evidence for sixteenth-century environmental degradation caused by introduced livestock. On the other, environmental historian Elinor G. K. Melville's research in the adjacent Valle del Mezquital suggests that sheep devastated that region's environment by the sixteenth century's close. This investigation looks beyond the finer points of methodology in search of other reasons for this debate. The article draws upon feminist epistemology to consider the role of researcher positionality. The author then advocates new perceptions of environmental cause-and-effect by emphasizing agricultural terrace abandonment as a possible trigger of environmental degradation.