Title page for ETD etd-0418102-132925

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Revels, Craig Stephen
URN etd-0418102-132925
Title Timber, Trade, and Transformation: A Historical Geography of Mahogany in Honduras
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Geography and Anthropology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
William V. Davidson Committee Chair
Kent Mathewson Committee Member
Miles Richardson Committee Member
Paul E. Hoffman Committee Member
John Wrenn Dean's Representative
  • historical geography
  • mahogany
  • Honduras
Date of Defense 2002-03-27
Availability unrestricted
Combining archival and field investigation, this study reconstructs the historical geography of mahogany in Honduras. Focusing on the north coast, its temporal focus stretches from the mid-eighteenth century through the last years of the nineteenth century. This incorporates the earliest stages of the commercial mahogany trade in Honduras, its decline and subsequent rebirth, its boom period in the mid-1800s, and its eventual decline.

The initial chapters of the study address cultural aspects of the mahogany trade. The mahogany extraction process is examined in detail to provide a foundation for discussion of the expansion and development of the trade itself. With this framework, it becomes possible to explore the trade's legacies in the contemporary Honduran landscape, including investigation of toponyms and relict mahogany sites.

In the chronological narrative, particular emphasis is placed on the rebirth of the trade in the 1830s under the auspices of Francisco Morázan and Marshall Bennett, as well as the boom years of the 1840s and 1850s. This period was characterized by sustained expansion up the main river valleys of the north coast. In the Aguán valley, rival mahogany interests succeeded in generating a great deal of diplomatic activity concerning the sovereignty of the Miskito Shore as well as a litany of armed incursions and property seizures. Ultimately, as the boom passed so too did much of the conflict. As the trade declined in importance, British mahogany cutters were supplanted by Honduran and American concerns, and mahogany was eventually replaced by the fruit trade.

The impacts of the mahogany trade were ultimately limited to the north coast itself. Though lucrative to a small number of individuals, mahogany failed to generate significant returns to the state, and the region remained as isolated from state influence as it had before the trade began. Yet the trade had substantial local impacts, opening the lowland forests to development and generating a flurry of local economic and political activity. These impacts are still evident in the contemporary cultural landscape, although mahogany has largely disappeared from the river valleys of the north coast.

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