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The Americas 58.3 (2002) 477-479

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Estudios sobre historia y ambiente en América. I, Argentina, Bolivia, México, Paraguay. Edited by Alba González Jácome and Bernardo García Martínez. México: Instituto Panamericana de Geografía e Historia, El Colegio de México, 1999. Pp. x, 296. Illustrations. Maps. No price.

This collection of articles is a wonderful beginning to a new series: "Estudios sobre historia y ambiente en América," and an important contribution to the development of studies of human/nature relations in Latin America. If this first volume is any indication, the series should have no trouble living up to its name, thereby allaying the editors' concerns that the title is too ambitious. But if the title does not misrepresent the breadth of the contents, it is interesting for what it implies, or rather, what it allows the authors to do. The simple statement that this volume contains studies of history and environment, frees the authors of this and future volumes [End Page 477] from the constraints of having to comply with a specific approach such as historical geography, environmental history, and historical ecology. It allows them to explore the historical dimension of their subjects from a variety of disciplines and methods. In this first volume, for example, the authors are drawn from natural science, social anthropology, geography, and history; and while they conform to historical method to the degree that they use documents, they bring their different forms of explanation and modeling to bear on their subjects. The result is a flexible approach to the study of human/nature relations that reflects the interests of both specialists of Latin America, and students of human/nature relations.

The articles cover a wide range of topics, eras, and places. The editors have ordered them according to four very broad topics: perception and ideas; forests; water; and texts. The volume opens with two articles that deal with the relation between mentalité and non-human nature: the perceptions of healthy and insalubrious conditions in sixteenth and seventeenth century Spanish cities (Alain Musset); the connections between the economic thought of the illustrados of the Río de la Plata in the eighteenth century, and the loss of the flora and fauna of the region (María del Rosario Prieto and Teresita Castrillejo). In the following two articles, the focus is on the shifting relationship between memory, identity, and place: Wayne Robbins explores the formative relationship between Guaraní identity and transition zones between forests and water sources, and demonstrates how the Guaraní have recreated themselves as these places have changed; Bernardo García Martínez traces how a community in the Gulf Coast of Mexico constructed an identity based on an imagined place, on a forest that did exist, but not where they imagined.

The focus then moves to changing forest-use over the past five hundred years. María de la Luz Ayala traces the rise of private property and changing forest use in Mexico over the colonial era, and demonstrates Indian resistance to both processes. Chantal Cramaussel shows how ecological changes associated with the development of mining and the loss of forest cover shaped Spanish colonisation in Parral in the seventeenth century. Elena María Abraham and María del Rosario Prieto explore a process of desertification in a wine-producing region in Argentina in the late nineteenth-century, and conclude that over-exploitation by livestock resulted in the loss of the forest cover and ultimately in desertification.

Questions of water sources, their use, and the consequences of natural and human-induced changes, concern the next group of articles. Patricia Dussel and Roberto Herrera focus on climate and river flow, and examine the climatological causes and the socioeconomic consequences of the shift in course of the Salado River (Argentina) in the eighteenth century. Sonya Lipsett-Rivera examines urban uses of water in the state of Puebla in the eighteenth century, and shows how water scarcity shaped urban patterns of consumption. In his article on the politics of irrigation in the...


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