12137 - Divide and Conquer: When Ditches Ruled the Earth.

In 1607, Spanish settlers and crown officials in Mexico began to drain the seasonal wetlands and lakes that surrounded and frequently flooded their new capital. Besides gradually draining, the tunnel, dams, sluices and canals that made up this project -- known as the Desagüe de Huehuetoca -- divided land from water. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, alliances of courtiers, financiers and the crowns of England and France began to do exactly the same to fenlands and marais. What do these simultaneous desiccation projects have in common and what is the significance of their differences? This paper treats these drainage “public works,” as they were conceived and portrayed, as large-scale objects whose meaning and social function are as readable as those of the small-scale objects that students of material culture and technology often focus on. Using archival documentation and existing archaeological research, the paper explores how the deployment of the ditches, enclosures, dams, reservoirs and other large scale structures that made up these public works reshaped not just the landscapes and ecosystems where they were deployed, but also the social relations of power within them and between their locales and the capital cities, seeking also to clarify how the colonial context made a difference on the ground. By focusing on objects made of unglamorous materials such as dirt and brush, and examining them in their social and ecosystemic context, the paper supports the reintegration of the historical study of material culture, technology and the environment.

Palabras claves: tecnologia, ambiente, agua, Mexico, colonial

Autores: S. Candiani, Vera (Princeton University, United Kingdom)


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