Latin American History Round-up

Here’s a webpage of Latin American history offerings from Duke University Press. Some of the books are from 2014 while others were published in the last couple years. There are a ton that look interesting but here are a couple that I found unusual and intriguing:

1. Jungle Laboratories: Mexican Peasants, National Projects, and the Making of the Pill by Gabriela Soto Laveaga

In the 1940s chemists discovered that barbasco, a wild yam indigenous to Mexico, could be used to mass-produce synthetic steroid hormones. Barbasco spurred the development of new drugs, including cortisone and the first viable oral contraceptives, and positioned Mexico as a major player in the global pharmaceutical industry. Yet few people today are aware of Mexico’s role in achieving these advances in modern medicine. In Jungle Laboratories, Gabriela Soto Laveaga reconstructs the story of how rural yam pickers, international pharmaceutical companies, and the Mexican state collaborated and collided over the barbasco. By so doing, she sheds important light on a crucial period in Mexican history and challenges us to reconsider who can produce science.

2. Centering Animals in Latin American History: Writing Animals into Latin American History, edited by Martha Few & Zeb Tortorici

This collection reveals how interactions between humans and other animals have significantly shaped narratives of Latin American histories and cultures. The contributors work through the methodological implications of centering animals within historical narratives, seeking to include nonhuman animals as social actors in the histories of Mexico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Chile, Brazil, Peru, and Argentina. The essays discuss topics ranging from canine baptisms, weddings, and funerals in Bourbon Mexico to imported monkeys used in medical experimentation in Puerto Rico. Some contributors examine the role of animals in colonization efforts. Others explore the relationship between animals, medicine, and health. Finally, essays on the postcolonial period focus on the politics of hunting, the commodification of animals and animal parts, the protection of animals and the environment, and political symbolism.

3. The Allure of Labor: Workers, Race, and the Making of the Peruvian State by Paulo Drinot

Paulo Drinot rethinks the social politics of early-twentieth-century Peru. Arguing that industrialization was as much a cultural project as an economic one, he describes how intellectuals and policymakers came to believe that industrialization and a modern workforce would transform Peru into a civilized nation. Preoccupied with industrial progress but wary of the disruptive power of organized labor, these elites led the Peruvian state into new areas of regulation and social intervention designed to protect and improve the modern, efficient worker, whom they understood to be white or mestizo. Their thinking was shaped by racialized assumptions about work and workers inherited from the colonial era and inflected through scientific racism and positivism.
Although the vast majority of laboring peoples in Peru were indigenous, in the minds of social reformers indigeneity was not commensurable with labor: Indians could not be workers and were therefore excluded from the labor policies enacted in the 1920s and 1930s and, more generally, from elite conceptions of industrial progress. Drinot shows how the incommensurability of indigeneity with labor was expressed in the 1920 constitution, in specific labor policies, and in the activities of state agencies created to oversee collective bargaining and provide workers with affordable housing, inexpensive food, and social insurance. He argues that the racialized assumptions of the modernizing Peruvian state are reflected in the enduring inequalities of present-day Peru.

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