Title page for ETD etd-04022009-230601

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Hunter, Richard
Author's Email Address rhunte5@tigers.lsu.edu
URN etd-04022009-230601
Title People, Sheep, and Landscape Change in Colonial Mexico: The Sixteenth-Century Transformation of the Valle del Mezquital
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Geography & Anthropology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Andrew Sluyter Committee Chair
Craig Colten Committee Member
Kent Mathewson Committee Member
Miles Richardson Committee Member
Alejandro Cortazar Dean's Representative
  • estancias
  • historical geography
  • metepantli
  • teotlalpan
Date of Defense 2009-03-17
Availability unrestricted
The causes of central Mexicoís environmental degradation are poorly understood. Scholarly contention centers on the role of introduced livestock as agents of soil erosion. This dissertation explores New Spainís sixteenth-century livestock ecology by drawing upon archival and field data to reconstruct the spatio-temporal characteristics of sheep ranches in a southeastern section of central Mexicoís Valle del Mezquital. The introductory chapter outlines a scholarly disagreement from the 1990s that underscored differences between historical and geographical approaches to studying historical landscape transformations. On one side of this debate, geographer Karl W. Butzer finds in the sixteenth-century Mexican BajŪo little evidence for environmental degradation from introduced livestock. On the other, environmental historian Elinor G.K. Melvilleís research in the adjacent Valle del Mezquital suggests that sheep devastated that regionís environment by the sixteenth centuryís close. This section looks beyond the finer points of methodology in search of other reasons for their disagreement, namely researcher positionality. Chapter 2 addresses the methodological concerns that arise from using colonial-era Mexican archival sources to study landscape transformations. This chapter outlines how previous scholars have approached these concerns and how this dissertation handles each of them. The discussion then turns to perceptions of environmental cause-and-effect with an emphasis on agricultural terrace abandonment as a possible mechanism of environmental degradation. The second chapter also reviews basic concepts in rangeland ecology. The two subsequent chapters focus on the natural environment and the pre-Hispanic inhabited environment together attempt to establish an ecological baseline with which to evaluate colonial-era landscape transformations. Chapter 5 leverages the relatively small size of this dissertationís study area to map many of the sheep ranches to a relatively precise degree. A time-series of maps reveals the spatio-temporal development of the study areaís sheep ranch complex. A Geographic Information System analyzes the various spatial characteristics of each ranchís location. This analysis emphasizes the reality of a three-dimensional landscape by considering the aspect, slope, and elevation of the ranching complex. The significant findings are: agricultural terrace abandonment likely instigated some of the regionís soil erosion; there appears to have been fewer sheep in the study area than previously thought; deep drought conditions operated synergistically with herbivory and land abandonment in the late sixteenth century to transform the Valle del Mezquital into the degraded region it is today.
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