Mexican Forests as Political Landscapes

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 2:30 PM
Houston Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Christopher R. Boyer, University of Illinois at Chicago
This presentation interprets Mexican forests as an organic site of social contention and collaboration. It shows that conflicts over forests the use of forests have been commonplace over the past 120 years, as historical actors struggled to determine whether they will be used  as the basis for subsistence forestry by rural communities, as ecosystems to be managed by technocrats, or as raw materials for national development. Yet these debates also suggest that peasants, scientists, politicians and others all agreed on a fundamental point: that forests had become, among other things, political landscapes. Through a brief historical overview of this fundamental point of agreement, we will see how forests both structured and have been structured by social negotiations over their use, particularly in light of the fact that Mexico’s post-revolutionary land reform placed most of the nation’s forests into the possession of rural communities.

The presentation will also make a brief discussion of methodology. To what extent is possible for historians to “read” the environment as a text? How is it possible to use documents like those found in Mexico’s forestry archives, which are incomplete, unrepresentative, and contain numerous falsifications. This brief methodological exploration will suggest that environmental historians (like all historians) must take particular care to rely on multiple forms of documentation and to avoid falling into the conceptual trap of assuming that scientific documents somehow provide a privileged perspective on the natural world.

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