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Volume 61 / Social Sciences

GEOGRAPHY: BRAZIL


KEITH D. MULLER, Associate Professor of Geography, Kent State University


THE ENVIRONMENT, DEVELOPMENTAL POLICY, soils, climate, and the landless movement are the central topics of works reviewed for HLAS 61. This is especially true for the Amazonian-dominant English-language literature, whereas the Portuguese-language publications cover all regions of Brazil and additionally examine subjects such as population, socioeconomic issues, tourism, and the census.

Two books on Amazonia are especially noteworthy. Cardoso addresses local resource management and extractive reserves and seeks to understand how they are being influenced globally (item #bi2005001353#). Little emphasizes the interplay of local and global forces from environmental, political, and anthropological perspectives, and examines issues ranging from resource exploitation and conservation to colonization, urbanization, and industrialization (item #bi2005001403#).

Soil geographer William Woods and his North American and European colleagues deserve special mention for research and publications on Amazonia "dark soils," which are patches of organically rich and sustainable soils. Woods' extensive field and laboratory work culminates in two books (items #bi2005001401# and #bi2005001402#). These recent publications suggest a new potential for sustainability of humid tropical soils and the viability for greater precontact population estimates for Amazonia, such as those first described by the Spanish explorer Orellana in 1542. Scholars have largely thought Orellana's claims were greatly overstated because shifting cultivation has been thought to lead invariably to rapid leaching of nutrients from soils, thus allowing only limited populations. Earlier research by Woods and others led them to believe that garbage and camp debris were responsible for the development of "black soils" (see HLAS 59:2979, 3007, and 3008). However, recent findings from the two above-mentioned books, as well as further work by Woods and his colleagues (see items #bi2004003596#, #bi2004003595#, and #bi2005001410#), suggest that the indigenous use of charcoal is the previously unknown key ingredient for successful development of fertile and sustainable dark soils. Implications for contemporary land-use in Amazonia is open: will such studies lead to well-conceived planning or will they result in even greater destruction in the future?

Two outstanding books address the phenomenon of Movimento Sem Terra, or MST (Landless Movement), a growing social movement in Brazil since its development in Rio Grande do Sul in 1980s. Wright and Wolford trace its origins and growth and compare MST settlements throughout the country (item #bi2005001411#). Branford and Rocha's study, based principally on interviews of landless peasants, provides unique insights into the movement (item #bi2004003599#).

RECENT DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS

A wide range of dissertations, mostly centered on Amazonia, may be of interest to readers of this chapter. Readers may refer to http://wwwlib.umi.com/dissertations/ for abstracts and 20-page previews.


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