Environmental History of Colonial Mexico City

AHA Session 217
Conference on Latin American History 60
Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Colorado Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Ramón A. Gutiérrez, University of Chicago
The Audience

Session Abstract

Colonial Mexico City is a special case in Latin American environmental history.  The establishment of a city where water naturally settles—within a six-lake system—posed a series of technical, administrative, and social challenges for its inhabitants.  All other Spanish colonial cities were founded on land, and, as a result, water management was not an overarching concern.  Conversely, the management of water at Mexico City is key for understanding both the settlement’s urban character and its social makeup.  Strikingly, the city's relationship to its natural environment—the lakes, basin, and countryside—is still a topic underexplored by scholars.  

This panel seeks to narrow the lacuna between the urban, environmental, and rural histories of colonial Mexico City by identifying how water management shaped the character of the city, the contours of its countryside, and the social relations of its peoples.  By exploring certain crucial water management meta-narratives (such as the drainage of the lakes) as well as some micro-histories (such as chinampa agriculture), the panel illuminates how the relationship between Mexico City and its surrounding natural world was elastic and dialectical.  Drawing from a broad range of colonial environmental issues, such as water and land management, pollution, and flooding, each paper situates colonial Mexico City and its surrounding ecosystems within their specific social milieus, revealing how the city's diverse social groups developed unique forms for interacting with the natural world.

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