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Volume 61 / Social Sciences

GEOGRAPHY: MIDDLE AMERICA


PETER HERLIHY, Associate Professor of Geography, University of Kansas
THOMAS KLAK, Professor of Geography, Miami University of Ohio


NON-HISPANIC CARIBBEAN

The entries in this section broadly represent the current state of geography-related scholarship on the non-Hispanic Caribbean region. While not every one of these works was written by a geographer, each contributes valuable insights for a geographical understanding of the Caribbean. A wide range of scholarship demonstrates the current breadth of the field of Caribbean geography. Included are works that range from historical to contemporary, theoretical to applied, archeological to political economy, cultural to developmental, and environmental to banking and telecommunications. Also included is one recent example from the works of each of a wide range of authors representative of the diversity of Caribbean geography and closely related disciplines. The items annotated for HLAS 61 can therefore point readers toward scholars, bibliographies, and topics represented here by only a single work.

Although the works included are highly diverse, virtually all of them exemplify one or more of four prevailing subfields in recent Caribbean geographical scholarship: historical geography, environmental analysis, geographies of development, and cultural studies. These four subfields are highlighted with a few exemplary works.

Historical geography continues to be well-represented in Caribbean studies. A recent trend in this subfield is illustrated by scholars who carry their historical analysis to the present. In this way, the past helps to explain the current state of affairs (items #bi2004001818# and #bi 00003222#).

Environmental analysis is becoming increasingly important in the Caribbean context because of the grave ecological problems affecting the region. Environmental geography often has an explicit connection to policy and practice. Research frequently includes discussion of how the findings can be applied to current concerns of the region's governments, NGOs, or citizens (item #bi2002007026#). Included within environmental geography is the important tradition in geography of political ecology, which combines an understanding of ecological processes with an analysis of political and economic issues (item #bi2004001811#).

Caribbean development geography is a diverse field concerned with both social and economic development issues. The field also extends beyond social and economic issues to connect with political concerns and environmental impacts. Researchers use both quantitative and qualitative methods, and focus attention both on macroeconomic indicators and on social groups such as families, formal and informal workers, peasants, children, and women (item #bi2004001815#). Much of the recent scholarship is concerned with the impacts of ongoing foreign debt, neoliberalism, and globalization and the US-led "war on terror" (item #bi2004001810#). Many scholars trace these macro-scale processes down to the ground level and try to ascertain their impacts on peoples' lives, paying close attention to how people respond in myriad ways to the macro-level changes. This organizational framework is sometimes described as one of studying "the local in the global" (item #bi2004001817#).

In cultural studies, research focuses on themes such as social movements, cultural identities, the Caribbean diaspora and transnationalism, gender, and power. Much of the work in cultural studies can be termed postcolonial, in that it consciously and critically reflects on taken-for-granted ideas and practices in mainstream research and society. Examples of cultural studies include an interest in Trinidadian carnival as an example of cultural globalization (item #bi2003001744#), Caribbean gender struggles and feminist perspectives (item #bi2004001596#) and Caribbean political experiments and movements in relation to the daily struggle for survival of the region's poor and disenfranchised (item #bi2004001814#). [TK]

HISPANIC CARIBBEAN AND CENTRAL AMERICA

About one-fourth of the total number of publications received and examined for the period 1997–2002 on the geography of Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean were selected for annotation in HLAS 61. Several excellent edited collections brought together significant contributions on the region's geography, including the research of Central Americanist geographers (items #bi2001000125#, #bi2004001553#, and #bi2002001683#; also see HLAS 59:4904), with one outstanding overview of the isthmus being Central America: A Natural and Cultural History (see HLAS 59:2427). Most of the materials canvassed came from the cultural rather than physical side of geography.

A tradition in historical geography combining archival work and fieldwork continued its prominence in the literature during the period under review, producing some excellent research (items #bi2004001820#, #bi2004001826#, #bi2004001832#, #bi 00004168#, #bi 98009106#, #bi2004001835#, #bi2004001842#, #bi2004001844#, and #bi2004001837#), with the two most remarkable contributions being the Historical Atlas of Central America (item #bi2004001822#) and Colón y la Costa Caribe de Centroamérica (item #bi2004001823#) coming from Central American scholars.

A strong interest continues in the demography, ethnicity, identity, and geography of indigenous peoples (items #bi2004001553# and #bi2004001843#; also see HLAS 57:4760). In his very productive twilight years, Robert West illustrated the ethnogeographic genre in a brief but definitive essay on the indigenous Lenca of Honduras (item #bi2004001839#). The period experienced a new emphasis on the importance of local knowledge and indigenous participation in research, conservation, and development work (items #bi2002004939# and #bi 98009917#). One result was the participatory mapping methodology that, while providing standardized accuracy and results, has empowered local indigenous/peasant peoples in the control, management, and development of their lands and resources, offering potential to help solve complex conservation and land tenure issues (items #bi2002004939#, #bi2004001834#, #bi2004001828#, #bi2004001840#, and #bi2004001845#). The logic of local, micro-level studies has likewise been demonstrated by dispelling myths and misinformation about rainforest societies and their natural resource use (item #bi2004001833#, #bi2004001836#, and #bi2004001846#).

Geographers try to understand and safeguard protected areas, especially biosphere reserves (items #bi2004001829#, #bi2004001834#, and #bi2004001838#), staying vigilant of resource destruction, land degradation, and deforestation (items #bi2004001847#, #bi2004001848#, #bi 98009917#). Stanley Heckadon-Moreno, Roberto Ibáñez D., and Richard Condit—researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute—edited a landmark study that establishes the baseline for monitoring these types of environmental changes in the Panama Canal zone (item #bi2002001684#).

Geographers continue to decipher past anthropogenic environmental and landscape changes made by the ancient Maya (items #bi2004001821# and #bi2004001827#). To delve deeper into the past and present, geographers now use narrative, discourse, and perception analyses to understand conservation and other policy decisions, as well as to show how different places are socially constructed (#bi 99006334#, #bi2001001894#, #bi2004001841#, and #bi2004001831#). And setting the bar at a high level, George Lovell paints a reflective geographic tapestry of the beauty and anguish of the modern Maya (item #bi2001005588#).

Some geographers focused on the social and political consequences of conservation and development policies (items #bi 00000882#, #bi2004001824#, and #bi2002001687#) and the shift toward regional integration (items #bi 00002165# and #bi 98009917#), but much more research is needed in these areas.

Much less was published on the region's physical geography and biogeography during the period. Among the few works reviewed were items #bi 00004162#, #bi2001003698#, and #bi2001002095#. Standouts are Horn's research on páramo vegetation in Costa Rica (see HLAS 59:2438) and Leigh's study of tropical forest ecology in Panama (item #bi 00004160#). Important issues of social and environmental vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters are considered only by items #bi2002004961# and #bi2002001688#. Similarly, very little was published on the urban geography, save the exceptional volume by Joe Scarpaci and his colleagues on Havana (item #bi2004001818#). [PH]


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