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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

GEOGRAPHY: GENERAL


KENT MATHEWSON, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Anthropology, Louisiana State University

THIS SURVEY COVERS WORKS published between 2002 and 2006. The most active arena of debate and publication centers on the burgeoning industries of globalization treatises and sustainability studies. If not in explicit terms, these works fall into these domains by extension or association. Yet, there seems to be lacking a single touchstone book or edited volume that provides a broadly comprehensive and, at the same time, theoretical exposition of either of these timely topics for Latin Americanist geography. Perhaps each has become too complex and expansive to be corralled within a single study or volume. In the meantime, the rapidly expanding journal article and edited collection literature must be tracked to keep abreast of these developments in globalization and sustainability research.

Despite the absence of a single synthetic-theoretic work, some books and edited collections do stand out among those reviewed. Scarpaci's work on heritage tourism is perhaps the best of the single-authored efforts (item #bi2004003568#). The proceedings from the 6th Congreso de Geografía de América Latina (Valladolid and Tordesillas, Spain) provide a wide range of reportage and analysis on urban issues in some 60 chapters (item #bi2006000258#). Befitting a realm whose population is now more urban than rural save for in a few countries, much of the recent geographic work, especially by geographers in Latin America, is centered on urban areas and problems. This notion also pertains to sustainability studies, though questions of natural resource use and agricultural systems naturally invite continued attention as well.

If the dynamics of globalization and the challenges of sustainability currently occupy center stage, both existing and some emerging topics are also noticeable and notable. Commercial geography's focus on commodities—once the core of an unabstracted, prequantitative economic geography—has returned as a cutting-edge concern in new hybrids of historical geography and environmental/economic history. Two recent edited collections showcase this emergence: Christian Brannstrom's essays on various commodities through the 19th and 20th centuries (item #bi2007002219#), and a compilation by historians tracing commodity chains from the 14th to the 21st century (item #bi2007002220#). The priority placed on elucidating "commodity chains" suggests conceptual rigor beyond simple mappings of product movements, though much of the attraction of the topic comes from the raw narrative biographies of commodities in historical and geographical motion. In fact, authors working within the popular genre of "commodity biographies" are producing first-rate geographical writing, some of it based on Latin American themes. Anthropologist Sydney Mintz's Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (1985) remains the classic here, but Redclift's Chewing Gum: The Fortunes of Taste (item #bi2007002222#) and Rain's Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World's Most Popular Flavor and Fragrance (item #bi2007005012#) add to the growing list of popular commodity biographies with Latin American groundings.

As reported in the previous HLAS volume (see HLAS 61, p. 235–242) on General Geography, the bicentennial of Alexander von Humboldt's travels in Latin America (1799–1804) stimulated a number of conferences and publications. This trend has continued through the current review period. Over the past five years a number of conferences, symposia, and special publications have been organized and issued. A special set of sessions on "Humboldt in the Americas" was organized for the Association of American Geographers' centennial meeting in Philadelphia in 2004. One session was devoted to Humboldt's Latin American work. The event resulted in a special issue of Geographical Review, Vol. 96, No. 3, devoted to Humboldt and his New World travels, and includes articles on Humboldt in Peru and Mexico (item #bi2007005013#). Perhaps the largest event, and the one with the most Latin Americanist content, was hosted by The Graduate Center, City University of New York, in October 2004. Entitled "Alexander von Humboldt: From the Americas to the Cosmos" the international conference featured 21 concurrent sessions with over 80 papers presented. Over half of the papers dealt with aspects of Humboldt's Latin American travels, research, and publications. The upshot of all this interest in, and attention directed to Humboldt's New World work should continue for some years to come.


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