Landscape Modifications and Colonial Control: Contestations over Nature, Extraction, Development, and Nonhuman Species in the Caribbean, Africa, and Southeast Asia

AHA Session 8
Friday, January 3, 2020: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Columbus Circle (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Colleen Woods, University of Maryland, College Park
The Audience

Session Abstract

Each paper on this panel explores an instance in which a colonial power implements, supports, or sanctions efforts to materially refashion indigenous space and ecosystems. At the same time, all of them consider how local people and the natural environment both shaped and limited these interventions. These papers examine the effect of these projects on “nature,” human social, political, and economic relations, as well as the lives of nonhuman animals. All of the authors consider how attempts to “develop” nature in order to extract resources and/or produce new forms of wealth elicited a range of unexpected responses and consequences. Each explores how nature and the environment were defined differently by different actors in the periods and spaces they examine – all are interested in exploring how and why these conflicting understandings emerged. Each scholar explores how colonial states used a range of technologies in their efforts to secure material control over space, nature, and people, and to produce ideologies that conferred legitimacy on these projects. Each one also explores how a range of actors managed, disrupted, and reshaped these projects. Underlying these case studies are assumptions about space and its relations to state power. In the wake of the spatial turn, it has been argued that the concept of space itself should not be treated as a material entity divorces from social, cultural, and material interactions. Indeed, these papers show that spaces are produced through practice and engender power relations.

Francisco Tiapa's paper aims to examine the impact of the Spanish sense of “civilised” and productive social spaces on the Indigenous sense of landscapes between the north-eastern Orinoco River and the south-eastern Caribbean basin in the 17th and 18th centuries. He will analyse the creation of culturally hybrid and overlapping perceptions of nature and Indigenous responses to these ecological and political impositions. Andreas Greiner's paper examines how German colonial road & rail builders - in their efforts to construct all-weather infrastructure to replace caravan roads - sought to overcome both natural constraints and the resistance of indigenous workers, revealing the limits of colonial rule in East Africa. Karen Miller argues that American lawmakers and administrators attempted to adopt the technologies of settler colonialism formulated in the U.S. and implement them in the Philippines in the early twentieth century. They used internal “colonization” to reinvent existing geographies and pacify frontier people and environments. Indigenous people disrupted these efforts, which also hit up against the limits defined by the “tropical” environment within which they were initiated. Finally, Bernard Moore's paper explores the construction of jackal-proof fencing throughout the arid, sheep-farming districts of southern Namibia during the 1950s-70s. He shows that jackal-proof fencing aided white farmers not just in controlling and eliminating carnivore threats, but it also drastically reduced the black shepherding labor force, consolidating apartheid governance structures. His work illustrates a unique point of confluence between environmental and economic history, as well as the history of animals and technology.

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