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Volume 53 / Social Sciences

GEOGRAPHY: GENERAL


CLINTON R. EDWARDS, Professor of Geography, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

MOST OF THE ENTRIES THIS BIENNIUM can be classified as problem-oriented, with many examining the environmental consequences of development. The idea of adverse environmental impacts has definitely come to the fore in commentary by Latin Americans (item bi 90011109). In Latin America, desarrollo often connotes large engineering projects or other undertakings that are having or may have deleterious effects on the habitats and resources of citizens. One article, though not by a Latin American, is particularly critical of the role of lending institutions in imposing and financing inappropriate and even damaging projects (item bi 91005994). This kind of questioning, along with other manifestations of environmental concern, demonstrates the vigorous awakening that has occurred in many parts of Latin America over the last decade or so. Commentary ranges from specific problems of sanitation (item bi 92003633), global warming (item bi 91012540), toxic waste (item bi 90012438), and energy (item bi 90012870), to the engendering of an "ecological conscience" (item bi 92003708) or some other form of awareness in which a relationship to habitat is a critical element. Several items call for fundamental changes in policy regarding resources and the environment in general. Basic to such concerns is the continuing job of taking stock of existing resources, for which ECLAC provides some guidelines (item bi 92003619).

Closely related to environmental problems is population, a perennial theme reflecting the upward demographic spiral that most parts of Latin America have experienced in this century. This biennium includes only three offerings (items bi 91021424, bi 90010674, and bi 90013291). In view of the quantity of previous contributions, presumably this is only a brief hiatus.

A focus from past years, mostly by non-Latin Americans, on rural-urban migration is now overshadowed by urban problems which, in great measure, were caused by that migration. A half-dozen items specifically treat the "primate" cities, and all but one (in German) are in Spanish.

Another perennial topic has been colonization, the opening of new or long-unused land for agriculture, by both foreigners and internal migrants. Past focus has been on the process and suitability of various settlement patterns and modes for particular physical settings. Now, if this biennium's works are any indication, concerns are directed more toward possibly adverse environmental impacts of inappropriate land use in new settlements (items bi 91021428 and bi 90011755).

Although works on historical geography are scarce this time, they do include an item on German contributions to the dissemination of early knowledge of the New World in Europe (item bi 90013314), an informative item on the physical oceanic conditions encountered by early European voyagers in the Atlantic (item bi 90012210), and a commentary on Alexander von Humboldt's role as pioneer European Latin Americanist geographer (item bi 89016188).

There are three items of particular interest to geography as a discipline: a useful quantitative inventory of Latin American geographical literature (item bi 91021425); a study of the historical contributions by German Latin Americanist geographers (item bi 90013294); and "Trends in Latin Americanist Geography in the United States and Canada" (item bi 91005338), an article which discusses prospects for the continued health of the sub-discipline and employment of Latin Americanist geographers in North America. The conclusions, based mostly on numbers of research contributions and practitioners, are quite pessimistic, but suggestions for rehabilitation are offered. Whether or not one agrees with the rather negative view, it is a useful summary. If it makes Latin Americanist geographers more aware of potential difficulties, it will have served its purpose.


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