Landscaping Patagonia

My first book project, Landscaping Patagonia: Space, Nation, and the Environment in Chile and Argentina, looks at the intersection of nature and culture to understand nation-making in a border region. Chilean and Argentine authorities of the second half of the nineteenth century attempted to transform the Desert. Actually, the words they used were “eliminate,” “occupy,” “pacify,” “conquer.” To do this, they deployed a myriad of nationalizing policies, from military campaigns to hotels, all in the name of a stronger nation. But the ‘nation’ meant different things for the many people living, governing, and traveling through the northern Patagonian Andes. Explorers, migrants, authorities, bandits, and visitors made sense of the nation through their everyday lives. They surveyed passes, opened roads, claimed land titles or leases, traveled miles to the nearest police station, rode miles on horseback escaping the police, and participated in commemorative ceremonies. Through these everyday practices in the environment, they construed shared understandings of belonging to a national polity. All of them forged versions of ‘Chile’ or ‘Argentina’ based on ideas of and experiences in the transnational space that is northern Patagonia. Geographical space was a fundamental aspect of people’s ideas of the nation.

Landscaping Patagonia focuses on the peripheral region that were the northern Patagonian Andes, an area of the cordillera between the 39th parallel to 46th parallels, and the people governing, living, and traveling there. I am interested in how people moved around, settled, and traveled, and how these experiences looped back to their understanding of the Andes. Hence, culturally, the northern Patagonian Andes sometimes extended beyond the valleys into the steppe in the east and the Pacific ports in the west. In nineteenth-century Latin America, new governments advanced a two-pronged nation-making strategy to constitute their territories. They negotiated international boundaries and they secured control over interior Deserts and, implicitly, the Indigenous people that inhabited them. By repositioning the analytical focus from the nation-state to the transnational region, Landscaping Patagonia challenges the center-periphery paradigm that typifies the scholarship on border regions, of Latin America and of Patagonia. I show that different, even contradictory, practices in border spaces contributed to the same nationalizing goals spurred in the capital cities. The focus on a border region allows me to examine not only what national authorities thought and did, but how other actors viewed the space they inhabited, how this environment affected their lives, how they transformed it, how they received decisions made by others, and how, in sum, this underpinned, if it did, a local idea of Chile and of Argentina.