[Home] [Current Tables of Contents]

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Volume 53 / Social Sciences


DANIEL W. GADE, Professor of Geography, The University of Vermont

THREE THEMES OF RECENT GEOGRAPHICAL RESEARCH on the Andean countries are environmental conservation, agriculture, and cities. As elsewhere in Latin America, numerous published materials focus on the precarious state of the environment and what needs to be done to preserve it. For example, item bi 92006966 succinctly profiles the situation in Colombia. The status of biodiversity is of keen interest (item bi 92010549), and parks and preserves are receiving more careful study than in the past (item bi 90008650).

In the literature on agriculture and land use, conservation issues have superseded modernization goals. Current writing increasingly views the content and logic of Andean peasant farming as a priceless heritage (items bi 93002821 and bi 93003047), rather than deriding its technological backwardness as did so much of the development literature in the 1960s and 1970s. Rehabilitating indigenous technology such as terraces and preserving native crops (see HLAS 51:3035) and their manifold varieties ("landraces") are now subjects of considerable interest. Scrutinizing the geographical patterning of kinds of potatoes in the Southern Peruvian sierra, Zimmerer (item bi 93003328) has provided insight into their progressive abandonment. One work reports on soil erosion, a pressing concern in highland peasant farming (item bi 93002888). In the eastern lowlands, Hiraoka (item bi 93003029) skillfully sorts out the complexity of slash and burn plots near Iquitos, and Works (item bi 93003056) provides a properly contextual study of dooryard gardens in a town in the selva alta.

The cities of Western South America, still magnets for rural migrants and groaning ever more under the weight of inadequate infrastructures, continue to preoccupy many geographically-minded scholars. Topics of recent studies range from the growth of Lima (item bi 91021440) and Bogotá (item bi 91008468) to the decay of downtown Lima (item bi 89006840).

Several other thematic areas under the rubric of geography have received attention in the literature. Natural hazard studies tend to be motivated by recent or remembered catastrophes (items bi 92010322 and bi 93002914). The political geography of Western South America continues to focus on boundary disputes. In physical geography, European scientists dominate. The group at the University of Bonn has produced another gem, a work derived from its research program in Bolivia (item bi 93003393).

Differences continue to appear in the research output country by country. Ecuador receives unusual attention from geographers; one result is that Quito must now be one of the most intensively studied cities in Latin America. ORSTOM, the French overseas research organization and a model of interdisciplinary cooperation, has had a particularly active research contingent in Ecuador in recent years. ORSTOM reports its results in French or Spanish, much of it in the Bulletin and monographic series of the Institut français d'Etudes andines (IFEA). In Peru, terrorism has taken its toll on fieldwork, but it has not prevented a resolute group of geographers at the Catholic Univ. in Lima from starting a new journal, Espacio y Desarrollo, or producing a regional atlas of Piura (item bi 93002899). Venezuelan geographers continue to turn out good regional studies of their country. Published geographical knowledge on Colombia remains disproportionately small for a country of such size and diversity. The absence of any university-level programs in the discipline has hampered geographical research in Bolivia, although competent publications appear at times from the pens of Bolivians educated in other fields.

Geographical knowledge on each of the five countries in this section accrues fitfully across a wide range of published work, from hodgepodge compilations to the results of carefully formulated fieldwork or spatial analysis of data sets. One genre that has not received much attention is exemplified by two works, the first on Peru's Department of Madre de Dios (item bi 92010540), and the second on Colombia's Department of Quindio (item bi 92010531). These "monografías" bring together diverse information about population and resources, past and present, of a municipality, district or larger political unit, often in a spirit of boosterism. Low print runs frequently make them rare within a decade after publication. Still poorly known in many aspects, the geography of Western South America benefits from the curiosity of both professionals and amateurs, who report on its exceptional diversity and lay foundations for understanding the workable connections that people have made with the land. Geography has also taken the applied route in some cases in its effort to identify urban and rural problems for resolution (item bi 91013712).

Go to the:

Begin a Basic Search | Begin an Expert Search

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian (12/30/04)