In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Environmental History

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historiographical Articles
  • Data Sources
  • The Americas
  • The Andes
  • Argentina
  • The Atlantic World
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Bolivia
  • Caribbean
  • Central America
  • Chile
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Ecuador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Peru
  • South America
  • Venezuela

Latin American Studies Environmental History
Myrna Santiago
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0077


Nature has been part of the Latin American intellectual tradition for over a century. In the second half of the 19th century Argentinian Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (b. 1811–d. 1888), Cuban José Martí (b. 1853–d. 1895), and Brazilian Euclides da Cunha (b. 1866–d. 1909) wrote about the relationship between man and the land and man and nature in Latin America. In the 20th century, a group of academics at the University of California, Berkeley, led by the geographer Carl Sauer published groundbreaking work on historical Latin American landscapes. A second cohort of Berkeley professors, historian Woodrow Borah and entomologist-cum-anthropologist Sherburne F. Cook broke new ground in environmental topics in the 1950s and 1960s, including the demography of the indigenous population of Mexico prior to Spanish colonization. In the 1980s, as the field formally known as environmental history flourished in the United States, historians of Latin America developed the subfield of Latin American environmental history. True to its roots, Latin American environmental history written in English is multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary, as geography, anthropology, science, and history converge in various combinations to produce a diversity of approaches and topics that may seem dispersed but give the field vibrancy. The tendency of the literature in English focuses on the large countries—Brazil, Mexico—meaning that the next generation of scholars has much room to fill. However, there is one thread that runs across the work in Latin American environmental history: a core concern with power relations and social justice as integral dimensions of the study of the relationship between human beings and their environments over time. All societies make environmental history and transform their environments, but not all human beings have the same degree of power in the process and that matters to practitioners of Latin American environmental history. The bibliography that follows is not exhaustive, but it gives the student a basis to start any research project.

General Overviews

Works that synthesize research on Latin American environmental history are rare. In order of publication, Miller 2007 is the only book to bring together the research done to date in a narrative that works as a general textbook, while Sedrez 2008 summarizes a similar narrative in article form. Boyer 2012 synthesizes themes in Mexican environmental history in the first collection to focus solely on one Latin American country, in this case, Mexico.

  • Boyer, Christopher. “The Cycles of Mexican Environmental History.” In A Land Between Waters: Environmental Histories of Modern Mexico. Edited by Christopher R. Boyer, 1–21. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2012.

    This first chapter of an edited collection provides an introductory synthesis of the environmental history of Mexico with an emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries. It reviews Mexico’s regional geography and how environmental history disrupts any standard political economy periodization, suggesting the field adds considerable complexity to Mexican history and its historiography. Available online by subscription.

  • Miller, Shawn William. An Environmental History of Latin America. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    This work synthesizes the research on Latin American environmental history following a standard political chronology. Starting with the pre-Columbian world, it follows ecological changes unleashed by Europeans in the 16th century and examines the opening of ecosystems for development upon independence, ending with a survey of the urban environment, pollution, population growth, and the economic penetration of the most isolated habitats of the continent. Mexico, Brazil, the Caribbean, and Peru receive the most coverage.

  • Sedrez, Lise F. “Environmental History of Modern Latin America.” In A Companion to Latin American History. Edited by Thomas Holloway, 443–460. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131612.2008.00026.x

    This chapter provides an introductory synthesis of the environmental history of Modern Latin America. It includes the following topics: forests, agriculture, urbanization, biotechnology, mineral resources, water, epidemics, science, droughts, floods, earthquakes, and environmentalism.

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