Cultural & Environmental development:

Augustin de Vetancurt, a Mexican Franciscan (an order of Catholic priests, monks and nuns) clergyman, laying the foundations of Creole nationalism argued, in 1696, that the New world was superior to the Old world in natural beauty and resources.

Imaginatively, he suggested, that Peru and New Spain (Mexico) were the twin breasts from which Europe was nourished by milk in the form of gold and silver.

"The Old and the New Worlds had been separate for millions of years before Columbus, except for periodic reconnect ions in the far north during the ice age. In this immense period the biota of the Old and New Worlds evolved and diverged. As of 1492, there were many similar species, especially in Eurasia and North America, such as deer and elm, but the differences were impressive. Europe had nothing like hummingbirds, rattlesnakes, and hickory and pecan trees."

Crosby, Germs. p. 9.



By 1800 the population of Spanish America was estimated at 17 million people as compared to Britain's Colonies in North America with less than 3 million inhabitants.

Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude on Mexican identity and the Mexican/United States rivalry.

Derek Walcott, The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory.

Juno Diaz, on The Brief and Wonderful life of Oscar Wao The Dominican Republic and diaspora.

W. E. B. Dubois in The Souls of Black Folk on The Negro and African culture in the West Indies, delved into the roots of racial prejudice.

Jamaica Kincaid A Small Place on Antigua.

Eduardo Galeano The Open Veins of Latin America on imperialism's legacies.

Important Dates

Question | Crosby | Mintz | Paz | Galeano | Diaz | Keen and Haynes | Greene | Kincaid


What we eat, what we award and what we celebrate in one another are each distinct windows on the edifice of culture.

Culture is an arbiter of biological inheritance because it may be defined as all of the acquired traits that population's pass on to their offspring. Culture includes, but is not restricted to language, diet, faith, rituals, institutions, gender roles, legal codes, customs, means of earning a living, patterns of habitation, widespread habits, technical proficiency, techniques and arts.

Crosby | Mintz | Paz | Diaz
Time line

What is the relation between culture, your cultural heritage and your ethnic identity?



"slavery played as important a role in the social organization of Brazil as race mixture did in its ethnic makeup."

p. 131, Keen and Haynes.

"As their lowland Amerindian subjects died off, Europeans reached out to the Bahamas, Nicaragua, and the backlands of their Brazilian settlements for slaves, but the newly enslaved died off as rapidly as those who were first subjugated."

"European conquerors faced the greatest labor shortage of all time. With Amerindians dying so precipitously, who was to do the work of reshaping the America's in accordance with the schemes of imperial governments and the demands of the European and world market?"

Crosby, p. 87.

figure on genetic heritage

Ethnic mixture of populations in Haiti, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Colombia, & Mexico of mixed heritage.


Andrés Moreno-Estrada, M.D., “Reconstructing the Population Genetic History of the Caribbean.”


What is called ethnic heritage influences how people satisfy their tastes and their heed for nourishment. While food, fuel, fiber and forage may be biological products selecting those particular products becomes a mixture of cultural inheritance, ethnic determinations of taste, and social opportunities to engage in particular occupations, cultic practices, or achieve citizenship.


Regardless of the capacity for cultivation and the means used to augment crops, such as the Arab ability to harness irrigation in arid lands, taste plays a role in what we consume as food.


Water pumped by wind for cattle in Cuba.

What we eat determines the land use patterns, labor relations and commercial patterns of existence for enormous numbers of people, and slavery is no exception to this pattern.


What we award in terms of behavior and enterprise is an indication of the expected conditions that thrive that also partially determine the commercial and labor relations that emerge out of our natural systems of landscape, watershed and atmosphere.


What we celebrate is at once a personal trait and a potential for joining personal behavior to common patterns of feasting, ritual observances or social ceremonies.

Question | Crosby | Mintz | Paz | Galeano | Diaz | Keen and Haynes | Greene | Kincaid


Alfred Crosby argues that population is related to the agricultural, natural, or genetic and biological conditions of a place and that these shape the intended habits of cultures as well as the unintended consequences of human biological situations. Culture emerges as a set of acquired traits that are dependent upon, extended from or attached to underlying inherited conditions of humans, in concert with plants animals and the entire living creatures of particular places.

Germs, Seeds and Animals.

sugar cane

Sidney Mintz sees in the production, consumption and marketing of everyday commodities, like sugar largely reflect the prevailing tastes, attitudes and feelings people have which greatly influenced social customs, behavior and beliefs.

Sweetness and Power

Question | Crosby | Mintz | Paz | Galeano | Diaz | Keen and Haynes | Greene | Kincaid


Cultural fusion

Keen and Haynes

Masters and Slaves

"Race mixture played a decisive role in the formation of the Brazilian people."

"Slavery corrupted both master and slave, fostered harmful attitudes with respect to the dignity of labor, and distorted the economic development of Brazil"


"The great majority of slaves worked on sugar and tobacco plantations"


"Even in the few large cities like Bahia and Rio, the dominant social group was composed of fazenderos and sugar mill owners. These men often left the supervision of their estates to majordomos and overseers, preferring the pleasures of the bustle of the cities to the dreary routines of the countryside."

p. 133.


Multiyear Droughts (1700–1824) and Correlation with the La Niña Drought Pattern

Decade Duration in DAI * Duration in regional index
1700s 1703–09 1703–09
1730s 1735–44 1728-47
1750s 1752–59 1748–57
1780s   1772–82
1820s 1818-1824 1818-1824
* drought area index (DAI)
Bold type indicates positive correlation significant at the 99% level after a reduction in the degrees of freedom based on Moran's I statistic of spatial autocorrelation [Sawada, 1999].

"Events in the DAI nearly always co-occur with events in the ENSO-sensitive region, implicating La Niña as a major cause of large-scale U.S. drought. Droughts that coincide exactly in these records occurred in 1703–09 and 1818–24. Those that partly coincide occur in the 1730s, 1750s, 1860s, 1890s, and 1950s; for these events, anomalies in the DAI often lag those in the regional index, suggesting that La Niña can trigger extensive dry periods and additional feedbacks can maintain them."

A persistent drought near 1860 coincides with a prolonged La Niña event in the coral record. This drought has been identified in several studies as particularly significant. In Texas tree-ring records, the decade centered at 1860 is the driest of the 1698–1980 record [Stahle and Cleaveland, 1988]. In tree-ring records bordering the Great Plains, the 1860s drought exceeds the 1930s Dust Bowl drought in multiyear intensity [Meko, 1992]. Historical accounts from the Great Plains and southwest note blowing sand and expanded dune fields at that time [Muhs and Holliday, 1995].

Geophysical Research Letters, "Multiyear La Niña events and persistent drought in the contiguous United States," Julia E. Cole, Jonathan T. Overpeck, and Edward R. Cook. Article first published online: 12 JUL 2002


From 1713 to 1832 the question of slavery grew in Britain from one of an exclusive monopoly in trade with the Spanish Antilles to an eventual enforcement of a cessation of the Atlantic Slave trade that was outlawed in the early 1800s.

1710-1720, drought period in the North American west equal in magnitude and duration to the Dust Bowl.

1713, Treaty of Utrecht and the Asiento: "The South Sea Company was granted the exclusive right to supply slaves to Spanish America." As well as an annual supply fleet to the annual fair at Portobello.

1739, reorganization of the viceroyalty of Peru and creation of the viceroyalty of New Grenada comprised of Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela, headquarters in Santa Fe (Bogotá) in part to protect the Caribbean coast from Dutch and British privateers.

Failure of the monsoons in the late 1760s contribute to the Bengal famine of 1770 where 10 million people die.

In 1765, commerce with the West Indies was thrown open to seven other ports besides Cadiz and Seville, this reform coming at the time when the Cuban sugar production was beginning to expand, gave a sharp stimulus to the Island's economy.

After 1770 coffee, grown in Venezuela and Cuba, joined cacao and sugar as a major export crop of the Caribbean area.

1785-87, famine in Central Mexico

1788-89 poor crop yields of in Europe, resulting from an unusually strong El-Niño effect between 1789-93.

1789 trade was thrown open in Venezuela and Mexico for all Spanish towns as part of an effort to promote unrestricted trade. Within ten years 1778-1788 trade increased by 700 percent.

1790, still by this year 85% of all trade from Spain with the Caribbean flowed through Cadiz.

The marked upsurge in export wealth of the Caribbean and Mexico, led by 1800 to rising unrest among the Mestizo and Creole populations of the Americas, at a time when the French Revolution and Haitian Revolt arguably set the stage for revolution in Mexico, if not in the Spanish sugar and spice islands.

1820-1830, prolonged drought period in the North American west equal in magnitude and duration to the Dust Bowl.

At the continental scale, the 1930s ‘Dust Bowl’ remains the most severe drought event since 1700 within the context of the estimated uncertainties. More severe episodes may have occurred at regional scales in past centuries."

(p. 516).

"Interannual and decadal variability in drought patterns over the US is subject not only to the influence of patterns of large-scale climatic variability associated with the El Niño - Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and North Pacific (NPO) and North Atlantic (NAO) oscillations (e.g., Rajagopalan et al., 2000), but also possible natural external forcing (Mitchell et al., 1979; Cook et al., 1997)."

(p. 503).

"The ‘Dust Bowl’ droughts of the 1930s and 1950s, which, at their most severe, covered 70% of the conterminous US and persisted for 5to 7 years at a time, incurred an estimated costof $39 billion, including losses in energy, water resources, ecosystems and agriculture."
(Riebsame et al., 1991).

(p. 502).

Zhang, Mann, & Cook, "Alternative methods of proxy-based climate field reconstruction: application to summer drought over the conterminous United States back to AD 1700 from tree-ring data" The Holocene 14,4 (2004) pp. 502–516.

"Among other things, the cores showed three severe droughts in the 1700s in southern Appalachia that were soon followed by large die-offs of trees."

Earth Institute, Columbia University, "Signals of Past Say Big Droughts Can Hit U.S. East: Tree Rings Show Dry Periods Worse Than Any Historical Record" 2011-03-23.


Caribbean Date lines

Question | Crosby | Mintz | Paz | Galeano | Diaz | Keen and Haynes | Greene | Kincaid


Octavio Paz believes that nations and people pass through critically defining moments in their collective and individual lives that redefine their culture because these events cause people to question our deepest values and motives.

The 18th and 19th centuries were such a period for Spanish America, for Mexico.


Mexico's Population Estimates, for 1810.

Percent numbers categories
Indians (Indigenes)
Whites (Creoles and Euros)
African-Americans (Cumbes)
Mestizos & Mulattos


By the end of the colonial period (1810-1820) in Mexico:

"An individual's race, in short, now tended to be defined not by skin color, but by such traits as occupation, dress, speech and self perception."

Keen & Haynes, p. 154.


Question | Crosby | Mintz | Paz | Galeano | Diaz | Keen and Haynes | Greene | Kincaid


shipa at sea
Imperialism dead or reborn?

After the Revolutions of Mexico and Columbia 1820-1825 and subsequent events to 1945.

Eduardo Galeano, from Tales of Premature Death in The Open Veins of Latin America

"The deed is done, the nail is driven, Spanish America is free; and if we do not mismanage our affairs sadly, she is English."

George Canning (MP, Prime Minister UK)
p. 173.

the era of Pax Britannica

"The Steam engine, the mechanical loom, and the perfection of textile machinery had precipitously matured Britain's Industrial Revolution. Factories and banks multiplied...."

The dimensions of industrial Infanticide
Alexander Von Humboldt estimated the value of Mexican manufacture–mostly textiles
200 looms
1500 workers and 1200 cotton weavers -- mist sophisticated in the hemisphere

Argentine ponchos 7 pesos -- UK three pesos

"The world's most advanced textile industry won at a gallop over the products of native looms, and it was the same with boots, spurs, iron grill work, bridles and even nails."

"the master and his slaves dress in the products of free labor."
James Watson Webb [US Ambassador to Brazil, 1830s]

"Brazil was an unofficial member of the British economic empire."
Chile was second

The Opium War against China and the Mexican disillusionment with British "free trade"

Lucas Alamán

the abundance of foreign goods in Mexico "spread unemployment among urban artisan masses" and  through the craft workers nationwide.

Mexico's credit and loan bank was opened in 1830
by 1840 Puebla , Mexico cotton looms produced 1.4 million lengths of heavy cotton
"so modernized that in 1840  US textile mills averaged fewer spindles than did those in Mexico."

"established an identity between political independence and economic independence, and extolled industrialization as the only defense against powerful and aggressive nations."

widespread powers of the latifundistas and the general impoverishment of mestizos and Indians undermined the incipient industrialization

France's Foreign Minister to restored King Louis 18th remarked
"In the hour of emancipation the Spanish colonies turned into some sort of British colonies."

British Banks loaned £ 21 million to Latin America only to have 2/3rds of that go to UK commissions and £  7 million only to the countries receiving the loans

"export prices fell while foreign import prices remained stable"

"Railroads formed another decisive part of the cage of dependency"

"the lumber camps created by the railroad broke up rural communities, destroyed agriculture and cattle-farming by razing pasture land and shade trees, enslaved several generations of Santiagans  (Santiago del Estero) in the forests and furthered depopulation."

CC-PP game of railroads -- privatized when profitable -- commonized when in debt

The differences between US colonial and independence policies and the Latin American experiences from colonialism to independence.

Post 1945

"The IMF and the World Bank emerged together to deny to underdeveloped countries the right of protecting their national industries, and to discourage state action in those countries."

US economic policy "still remained rigidly protectionist" reiterated "free-trade" overseas.
replacing Britain in the Americas.

5. The contemporary structure of plunder

US investment amounted to less than 1/5th of all the foreign capital in Latin American
"today, nearly three-quarters is from the United States."

"At the present time $1 of every $3 invested in Latin America is invested in industry."


Eduardo Galeano, The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973. 1997.


Cultural landscape

Question | Walcott | Crosby | Mintz | Paz | Galeano | Keen & Haynes | Greene | Diaz | Kincaid


Study Guide

veracity of statements

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