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Volume 61 / Social Sciences

GEOGRAPHY: WESTERN SOUTH AMERICA


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


RECENT PUBLICATIONS ON THIS REALM reflect a wide range of earth-bound phenomena that come under the purview of geography. Researchers who privilege the spatial and ecological include those not self-identified as professional geographers. Another element in the mix of contributors are outsiders from the Northern Hemisphere who, since the time of Alexander von Humboldt, have been attracted to the mountains and jungles of these countries. Weighted in terms of population and area, Ecuador is currently the most popular research venue for foreign scholars in South America.

About 20 published pieces stand out for introductory mention in this biennial canvass. One is a detailed study of peasant land-use on the Peruvian Altiplano (item #bi2004001065#); another is a publication on the continuing northward expansion of metro Lima (item #bi2002004302#). The influx of highlanders to the Peruvian coastal city of Trujillo reveals much about settlement behavior of migrants there (item #bi2004001071#). In Ecuador, the reverse process is studied for the Cuenca area where out-migration to international destinations has had interesting effects on the land left behind (item #bi2004001059#). Two good areal studies stand out, one on the Sechura Desert in northern Peru (item #bi2001007526#) and the other by an international and interdisciplinary team on Bolivia's long ignored Tarija dept. (item #bi2004001080#). Two further studies on abandoned precolumbian bank terraces suggest that in neither case is future rehabilitation likely (items #bi2001007517# and #bi2004001077#).

Deforestation, long ago a tool for carving out agricultural space, thus making civilization possible, has now become a grand metaphor for environmental decline. Wunder, for example, had analyzed wholesale tree removal in highland Ecuador in an economic framework that has applicability elsewhere (see HLAS 59:1977). For the Ecuadorian Oriente, ethnic differences in deforestation behavior are less salient than might be expected (item #bi2004001062#). A study done in southeastern Peru has shown that deforestation favors some kinds of wildlife (item #bi2004001070#), although hunters have known that for a long time; it is not likely to complicate conservation agendas. Indeed, in the case of the mountain tapir in Colombia, endangerment of the species is directly related not just to forest decline, but also to the segmentation of the forest into smaller and smaller blocks (item #bi2004000825#).

Other noteworthy biogeographical publications in this canvass are the Finnish collection of ecological papers on the Iquitos-Nauta transect in Peru's Loreto dept. (item #bi2004001069#). Moving across the cordillera to the normally dry Peruvian coastlands, a German team has studied what happens with vegetation when El Niño brings high amounts of rainfall (item #bi2004001063#). Researchers led by Inge Schjellerup have produced two fine empirical surveys in Amazonas dept. (items #bi2004001072# and #bi2004001075#). It is out of such studies of landscape, resource use, scale and territory that new perspectives can emerge about interrelatedness. Zimmerer has used his Andean research to come to grips with the larger meaning of multidimensional phenomena (item #bi2004001079#), one of the big challenges facing geography as an integrative discipline that captures the breadth of the mind.

Years of canvassing for the Handbook reveal not just the accomplishments, but also the gaps in knowledge production. Like sheep moving en masse to new pastures, many scholars seem to find their projects moving in directions ultimately suggested by others. The result is that numerous topics get ignored. For the past two decades, economic geography has retreated from its former dominant position. Studies of transportation adjustments, especially of how highways have transformed local economies, are few, as are geographically oriented commodity studies such as those examining coffee in Colombia, bananas in Ecuador, and cotton in Peru. As for urban geography, many smaller and medium-sized provincial centers, growing fast in all five countries, have yet to receive the kind of scholarly attention they deserve. A renewed place for field-based regional syntheses that converge the physical environment, resources, and land settlement across time would facilitate quantum leaps in geographical understandings of the Andean countries and other parts of Latin America. A notable example of this type of work is the monograph of Santos-Granero and Barclay on the regional definition of the tropical valleys once controlled from Huánuco and Tarma (see HLAS 58:2696). When done well, these studies have staying power as useful documents. It is instructive that the classic regional monograph on the Chocó region by the late Robert C. West has half a century later been translated into Spanish and published in Colombia (item #bi2004001056#).


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