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Volume 63 / Social Sciences


PETER H. HERLIHY, Associate Professor of Geography, University of Kansas

THE GEOGRAPHICAL LITERATURE REVIEWED on these regions is as varied as the environments and peoples found there. About one-fourth of the materials reviewed are included, covering an array of thematic, theoretical, and methodological perspectives touching a wide range of issues. Strong areas of interest include historical geography, development, tourism, and the past and present indigenous and Afro-descendant populations. At a time when the world arguably needs geography more than ever for humanitarian and scientific needs, the discipline is poised for a renaissance of relevance with geographers capable of making greater contributions to impact the peace and prosperity of the planet.


Once again, historical geography combining archival and fieldwork maintains its significant contributions to the literature on Central America. The entries demonstrate the significant impact that exemplary mentorship can have on scholarship in the discipline. The accolade goes to recently retired LSU geographer, William V. Davidson, who completed an outstanding atlas of rare and important maps chronicling the changing geography and history of Honduras (item #bi2007004670#), as well as a resurrecting of an invaluable 1895 census (item #bi2007004998#) that provides a foundational understanding of the historical geography in the country. The recognition comes, however, from the significant scholarship of his students, many of whom show up in the publications highlighted here. They have extended the reaches of historical geography and "ethnogeography" (discussed below) beyond the mentor's gaze with publications on the mahogany trade (item #bi2005002856#), the Moravian influence (items #bi2007004758# and #bi2007004759#), and the jícaro tree (item #bi2005002692#).

Geographers documented penetration roads that opened Central America's frontier regions to accelerated colonization, deforestation, and environmental decline during the 1970s and 1980s, thereafter focusing on the widespread establishment of conservation areas to protect remaining forests of the Central American Biological Corridor. Less attention, however, has been paid to these frontier regions and research themes lately. Notable exceptions document the impacts of paving Guatemala's Petén road (item #bi2007004667#) and the influence of a marine reserve on the people living on Ambergris Caye in Belize (items #bi2007004664# and #bi2006002300#). Geographers have also recognized that protected areas can produce transformative conditions that can act as allies of social groups and local people (item #bi2007004660#), and serve as sites for democratization (item #bi2007004668#). Related studies focus on the decentralization of forestry development to the municipalities in Honduras (item #bi2006001786#), and on sustainable tourism in Costa Rica (item #bi2006001781#).

Indigenous and Afro-descendant populations continue to be a major focus. The geographic study of ethnic groups, or ethnogeography, includes some of the more important research on the region. Scholars continue to decipher the past Maya plant use and environmental setting (items #bi2007005000# and #bi2007004999#), and ethnobotanical studies establish the earliest cultivation of corn in Costa Rica, suggesting early use of its fermentable stalks (item #bi2007004596#). Lovell and Lutz (item #bi2004001505#) published a classic overview on the demography and inter-ethnic relations of Guatemala's indigenous population from contact until the 19th century, detailing the cost of conquest and colonization that should be basic fodder for anyone studying the Maya past and present. Today, research shows tropical rainforest peoples counter past demographic trends with their high population growth rates (item #bi2005003186#).

The recognition that indigenous populations steward much of the region's surviving biodiversity led geographers to study their populations and map their lands and resources, helping to establish protected areas to safeguard their ancestral resources. A beautiful volume by Nations brings together his lifetime of experience working on these themes together in The Maya Tropical Forest: People, Parks, and Ancient Cities (item #bi2006002300#). As the region's indigenous peoples struggle for control of their lands and resources, geographers recognize their stewardship of common property pine forests in Guatemala (item #bi2007004666#) and their extraction of tropical hardwoods for the dugout canoe trade in Mosquitia (item #bi2007004599#).

The geographic literature reflects a concern over indigenous land rights throughout the isthmus, especially in Guatemala (items #bi2006001778#, #bi2006001779#, #bi2006001780#, and #bi2006001788#). Geographers have reconstructed historic territorial changes (item #bi2007005050#) and have studied drug production (item #bi2005000020#). Understanding existing property regimes (item #bi2005002467#) and constructing new ones for ethnic populations constitutes an area that arguably needs much more contemplation given the tapestry of individual and communal land rights in indigenous communities. And with the emergence of "critical" postmodern theoretical perspectives to resituate both research and researchers in Latin Americanist geography (item #bi2007004660#), it is surprising none have gotten closer to indigenous peoples' multiplicity of identifying construction and autonomy within the context of the states where they live, save initial observations from Nicaragua's autonomous region (item #bi2007004761#).

Participatory mapping, which emerged out of ethnogeographic research in Central America during the 1990s, has become a mainstream methodological approach during the new millennium. It is a powerful tool to research, defend, and reclaim indigenous lands and territories, as well as for protecting and managing their natural resources. The period details the second application of the participatory research mapping (PRM) prototype for converting cognitive spatial knowledge into standard maps in the uncharted indigenous homelands of the Kuna, Emberá, and Wounaan populations in Darién province, Panama (item #bi2007004763#). Innovative use of the approach mapped Buglé hunters' capture of almost half of their game from agricultural fields, documenting "garden hunting" within the agricultural system (item #bi2007004764#). Anthropologists have also teamed up with geographers to use the approach (in their own way) for mapping indigenous territorial rights in Nicaragua's Bosawas Biosphere Reserve (item #bi2007004762#) and on the Miskito Coast (item #bi2007004760#).

Violence, insecurity (item #bi2006001785#), risk, and disaster studies (item #bi2006001784#), as well as the problematic of drug production (item #bi2005000020#), are urgent and emergent themes in the geographic literature. To understand these issues, regional geographies will likely need to bring together GIS and place-based field research. And while geographers have come a long way to map the region's past and present indigenous and Afro-descendant populations, they will need to push their research further to respond to the cost of geographic ignorance. Next-generation digital geographies likely will not fall on one side or the other of the discipline, but will be robust combinations of regional, physical, and technical understanding.

Once again, a limited number of entries focus on the region's physical geography, with little research using remote sensing and GIS. Notable exceptions document cloud forest hydrology (item #bi2007004665#), the precolumbian human influence on tropical savanna formation (item #bi2007005051#), and the reduction of forest cover in Belize (item #bi2006001798#). One interesting GIS study analyzes changing spatial patterns of prostitution in Puerto Rico (item #bi2005003025#). Surprisingly little was published on migration and gender studies; however, an excellent study by Ines Miyares and colleagues (item #bi2005002859#) considers an imagined or truncated transnationalism.


The geographical literature on the Caribbean continues to focus on globalization, development, environmental change, and the ideal of sustainable natural resource use (item #bi2007004661#). A beautiful volume, Environmental Planning in the Caribbean by Pugh and Momsen (item #bi2007004663#), brings together these issues, while other publications question the trajectory of development and use of fragile coastal ecosystems (items #bi2007004662#, #bi2005004564#, and #bi2005003623#). Some geographers use thematic and regional studies for examining alternative views and critical theoretical perspectives (items #bi2007004660# and #bi2007004595#). Research also begins to look at the tourism industry as a mainstay of the Caribbean economy, one that brings tourists to historic cities and sites lacking adequate facilities (item #bi2007004765#). Scholars point out, however, that crowding in the international tourism market does not necessarily mean decreased growth is inevitable (item #bi2006002223#) and the rejuvenation of mature tourism economies is possible (item #bi2005004564#).

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