Environmental Studies

Commemorating a Century of Land and Water Reform

Thank you to Mikael Wolfe, author of Watering the Revolution: An Environmental and Technological History of Agrarian Reform in Mexico, for today’s guest post.

Mikael Wolfe

People celebrated the Constitution’s centennial with theater, music, dance, video, and self-congratulating speeches. One hundred years in, and it was still one of the world’s most progressive. It guaranteed not only civil and political rights but social and economic rights, like the right to unionize, an adequate minimum wage, retirement security, equal pay for men and women, and paid maternity leave. Of course, this wasn’t 1887 and it wasn’t the United States’ celebration. In February 2017, the United Mexican States (Mexico’s often forgotten, official name) were busy celebrating their constitution.

We may admire the ambition of the Mexican constitution, but even more important to Mexico’s poor rural majority in 1917 was the right to—and duty to conserve—land and water. Indeed, this was the principal raison d’être of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 for which hundreds of thousands of Mexicans had shed blood and the culmination of their constitution. How Mexico bestowed agricultural land and simultaneously tried to conserve natural resources, principally water, in the emblematic Laguna region is at the core of the story I tell in Watering the Revolution: An Environmental and Technological History of Agrarian Reform in Mexico.

978-0-8223-6374-3This story changes our understanding of Mexican agrarian reform, Latin America’s longest and most extensive, distributing nearly half of the arable land to millions of campesinos (peasants) from 1917 to 1992. Ostensibly, land reform was the goal, but to the campesinos land was worthless without water. Unlike land, however, water—in all its fascinating, frustrating fluidity—refused to bend to official decrees or be bound by surveyor lines. It still does, and not only in Mexico. The recent controversy surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) only proves the importance of water access and the fights over it. Through mass protest, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe helped popularize the motto that—just as, if not more so than land—“Water is Life.” After all, the DAPL doesn’t actually cross into Sioux land, but goes under the nearby Missouri River on which the Sioux depend. Interestingly, much of the politics, conflicts-of-interest, and corruption involved in building the DAPL resembles the story of hydraulic infrastructure-building in the name of the Mexican Revolution.  Though some still believe otherwise, then, as now, water rights and land rights cannot be separated.

This basic fact is illuminated by an envirotech history of water management. Envirotech’s premise is simple: Nature and technology not only impact one another, but become so interdependent that the boundary between them dissolves. A dam is an obvious example. An artificial, invasive structure, a dam creates new ecosystems upstream and down. In short, the envirotech perspective reminds us that people don’t just act on or react to nature, they also recreate it.

Envirotech is a new term in Mexican history but not necessarily new to Mexico. As I show in my introduction, the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera was attuned to envirotech long avant la lettre. From the 1920s Rivera celebrated in many of his murals motifs of putative harmony among humanity, nature, and technology. He depicted scenes in which engineers, or técnicos, adroitly executed land distribution and installed hydraulic infrastructure while a grateful nation applauded.

Brilliantly aspirational, Rivera’s murals didn’t reflect the complications and conflicts Mexicans incurred in making their Constitution’s mandate a reality. This is abundantly clear in the north-central Laguna region watered by the Nazas River, the focus of my book. The locals, or Laguneros, revered the Nazas as their “Nile” and “Father” for the rich sediment it brought to their fields from the Durango Mountains, yet it was a fickle patriarch. Some years it brought a trickle only to be followed by several years’ worth of torrential flows. This extreme irregularity was a source of constant recrimination among the farmers who relied upon the river for their livelihoods. As early as Porfirio Díaz’s presidency (1876-1911), a few water-deprived farmers, including the future president Francisco I. Madero, and government officials agreed upon an envirotechnical solution: damming the Nazas.

The Mexican Revolution, which overthrew Díaz, transformed the social and political landscape of the region and nation, and, with it, the social purpose of the dam, especially during the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940). If before the Revolution, the dam’s purpose was to make water distribution more equitable, after the Revolution water redistribution had to complement land redistribution. This made the dam appear to many large landowners as a facilitator of land redistribution, which they vehemently opposed.

Large landowners had good reason to oppose the dam. In 1936, Cárdenas decreed Latin America’s hitherto largest land reform in the Laguna, but the dam never actually delivered on its promise of providing a bountiful supply of water. Campesinos found living off the land as difficult after the land reform as before, largely because of insufficient water. Instead, quite literally, the fight went underground. Anyone with enough money to drill a well and install a motorized pump could withdraw groundwater, which meant richer farmers disproportionately benefited while weathering drought. Less controversial didn’t mean less problematic, however: Today the Laguna’s aquifers are among Mexico’s most overexploited and contaminated.

The real tragedy, however, as I argue in the book, is that Laguneros and government officials knew what was happening and had regulations in place to address the problem. Mexico had the authority to regulate surface water as early as the 1917 Constitution and the power to regulate groundwater by 1947. (By contrast, U.S. federal legislation regulating groundwater, primarily for drinking, was passed in 2006.) But despite this power, the government lacked the will to enforce these laws and water users the restraint to comply. People ignored laws and regulations even though they understood—to varying degrees—that they were only harming themselves in the long run. Campesinos, landowners, and even—if only in reputation—the técnicos all suffered from the collective refusal to regulate water use. How and why this happened and its consequences are at the heart of my story.

Save 30% on the paperback edition of Watering the Revolution using coupon code E17WATER, or read the introduction before buying.

Read to Respond Wrap-Up

R2R final logoSeveral months ago we launched our  “Read to Respond” series to highlight some of our most groundbreaking scholarship engaged with today’s pressing issues. Each topic, from student activism to racial justice, is highlighted with a reading list that encourages students and teachers alike to join the conversation surrounding these current events. 

Revisit your favorite “Read to Respond” topics so far and share these resources in and out of the classroom. These articles are freely available until December 15, 2017.

Read to Respond: Environmental Activism and Climate Change

R2R final logoOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. This post focuses on environmentalism and climate change in light of Earth Day and the March For Science, a international series of rallies uniting scientists, science enthusiasts, and concerned citizens against recent anti-environmentalist legislation. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

Environmental Activism and Climate Change

Journal articles are freely available until August 15, 2017. To save 30% on the listed books, please use coupon SAVE30 on our website. Follow along with the series over the next several months and share your thoughts with #ReadtoRespond. 

 

Read to Respond: Articles for Student Activists

R2R final logoOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

Articles for Student Activists:

These articles are freely available until August 15, 2017. Follow along with the series over the next several months and share your thoughts with #ReadtoRespond.

Open Access at Duke University Press: Blog Series Highlights

open-access-efforts-at-duke-university-pressOver the past week we have shared a series of four blog posts covering open access at Duke University Press. Topics in the series included Project Euclid, Knowledge Unlatched, Environmental Humanities, and The Carlyle Letters Online.

Leslie Eager, Director of Publishing Services for Project Euclid, shared information about the platform and the ways it supports open access in the mathematics and statistics world.

Steve Cohn, Director of Duke University Press, offered information about how we’ve participated with Knowledge Unlatched in the past and why we’ll continue in the future.

Brent Kinser, coordinating editor for The Carlyle Letters Online, shared his thoughts on the project and discussed his vision for its future.

We highlighted some of the exciting new content from the open-access journal Environmental Humanities, edited by Thom van Dooren and Elizabeth DeLoughrey, and the relationship between the journal and its five leading research university partners.

To learn more about these open-access initiatives at Duke University Press, read our previous blog posts.

Open Access: Environmental Humanities

We have created a series of five blog posts covering open access at Duke University Press. Today’s post features Environmental Humanities, an international, open-access journal focused on the most current interdisciplinary research on the environment. ddenv_8_2_cover

Responding to the rapid environmental and social change in our time,  Environmental Humanities’ scholarship draws humanities disciplines into conversation with each other and with the natural and social sciences.

Currently in its fourth year, Environmental Humanities publishes interdisciplinary papers that do not fit comfortably within the established environmental subdisciplines, as well as submissions from within these fields whose authors want to reach a broader readership. Such scholarship has taken its readers into the worlds of sheep and young French shepherds; of stones, worms, and forest-devouring beetles; of the potential weaponization of echolocation; of crows, seals, and lava flows in Hawaii. The journal also publishes a special section called “The Living Lexicon,” a series of 1,000-word essays on keywords in the environmental humanities that highlight how each term can move the field forward under the dual imperative of critique and action.

Funding Access

Open access is an important part of Environmental Humanities’ mission to reach new readers who can develop bold, innovative interdisciplinary approaches to environmental scholarship. The journal is currently sustained by a collaborative partnership among five universities, but the journal’s editors and the Press hope to establish a broader base of support among additional universities and libraries to ensure the journal’s future.

The journal’s current sponsors are Concordia University, Canada; the Sydney Environment Institute, University of Sydney, Australia; the University of California, Los Angeles, USA; the Environmental Humanities Laboratory, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden; the Environmental Humanities Program, University of New South Wales, Australia. These sponsoring institutions make Environmental Humanities’ content readily available to scholars across the world.

Climate Change and the Production of Knowledge

saq_116_1Though the causes and effects of climate change pervade our everyday lives—the air we breathe, the food we eat, the objects we use—the way the discourse of climate change influences how we make meaning of ourselves and our world is still unexplored. Contributors to this special issue of SAQ: South Atlantic Quarterly, “Climate Change and the Production of Knowledge,” bring diverse perspectives to the ways that climate change science and discourse have reshaped the contemporary architecture of knowledge itself: reconstituting intellectual disciplines and artistic practices, redrawing and dissolving boundaries, and reframing how knowledge is represented and disseminated.

The contributors address the emergence of global warming discourse in fields like history, journalism, anthropology, and the visual arts; the collaborative study of climate change between the human and material sciences; and the impact of climate change on forms of representation and dissemination in this new interdisciplinary landscape.

In “Environmental Activism across the Pacific,” this issue’s Against the Day section, contributors address forms of activism in which people seek to protect continuingly creative but ordinary life processes that conflict with imagined or emergent military bases, plantations, tourism infrastructures, and mines. From the introduction to the section:

It may be tempting to tell stories that focus only on the immensity and exceptionality of such contemporary ecological crises, but there are more stories to be told of the Pacific. The essays collected here not only reveal engagement with deeper trajectories of both violence and resistance, but also explore activism that maintains and constructs modes of life and relations of care among humans, the land, the ocean, and other beings.

Read the essays in this section, made freely available through July 2017.

Against the Day is a thematic section composed of short essays that engage topics of contemporary political importance. The title, “Against the Day,” is meant to highlight both the modes of activism and the specific occasion that the essays address.

American Studies Association 2016

1We had such a wonderful time selling books and journals at the American Studies Association last week in Denver, Colorado.

On Friday we had a reception celebrating Small Axe‘s fiftieth issue and twentieth anniversary. The wine and cheese were great, but the Small Axe swag was an even bigger hit!

The reception was fun way to celebrate with editor David Scott, managing editor Vanessa Pérez-Rosario, editorial board members, and readers of the journal. Keep the celebration going by reading Small Axe #50.

Friday night also included a reception for GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. It was great to see so many scholars and contributors to the journal, as well as co-editors Beth Freeman and Marcia Ochoa, celebrating the journal.

Several of our authors won awards for their books. Simone Browne won the 2016 Lora Romero Prize for her book, Dark Matters, and Lisa Lowe’s Intimacies of Four Continents was a finalist for the 2016 John Hope Franklin Prize, both from ASA.

It was wonderful to see so many authors and editors stop by our booth. We loved seeing them with their books, and especially enjoyed E. Patrick Johnson and Kai Green’s reenactment of the No Tea, No Shade cover!

Not able to make it out this year? Are there a few more books or journal issues you wish you would have grabbed? Don’t worry—you can use the coupon code ASA16 on our website through the end of the year to stock up on our great American studies titles for 30% off.

The Challenge of Ecology to the Humanities

ddngc_43_2_128The most recent issue of New German Critique, “The Challenge of Ecology to the Humanities: Posthumanism or Humanism,” edited by Bernhard F. Malkmus and Heather I. Sullivan, continues a decades-old debate on the relationship between the humanities and ecology. The relationship is historically ambiguous: where humanists tend to view the human as an ecological being, posthumanists reject references to “nature” as mere cultural fabrication. However, the global ecological crisis and an increasing awareness human impact on the planet as an ecosystem have forced the humanities to rethink their hidden anthropological and ecological assumptions.

The Challenge of Ecology to the Humanities” puts voices from historical, philosophical and literary disciplines in dialogue with each other with the goal of mapping out various possibilities for the humanities broadly but also specifically for the environmental humanities today.

Topics in this issue include posthumanist anthropology, nomadic knowledge, and narrating sustainability.

Read the introduction, made freely available.

Now Available: First Issue of Environmental Humanities Published by Duke University Press

ddenv_8_1We are pleased to announce the first issue of Environmental Humanities published by Duke University Press, volume 8, issue 1, “Multispecies Studies,” is now available at environmentalhumanities.dukejournals.org.

Environmental Humanities, edited by Thom van Dooren (University of New South Wales, Australia) and Elizabeth DeLoughrey (University of California, Los Angeles, USA), is a peer-reviewed, international, open-access journal. The journal publishes outstanding interdisciplinary scholarship that draws humanities disciplines into conversation with each other, and with the natural and social sciences, around significant environmental issues. Environmental Humanities has a specific focus on publishing the best interdisciplinary scholarship; as such, the journal has a particular mandate to:

  • Publish interdisciplinary papers that do not fit comfortably within the established environmental subdisciplines, and
  • Publish high-quality submissions from within any of these fields that are accessible and seeking to reach a broader readership.

Topics in “Multispecies Studies” include elephants and herpes, the Xenopus pregnancy test, cosmoecological sheep, and geologic conviviality.

Environmental Humanities is funded and managed through a partnership with five leading research centers: Concordia University; Sydney Environment Institute, University of Sydney; University of California, Los Angeles; Environmental Humanities Laboratory, KTH Royal Institute of Technology; and the Environmental Humanities Program, University of New South Wales.

To read more from the journal, visit environmentalhumanities.dukejournals.org.