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Plantations and the Second Conquest of Latin America

This module aims to introduce students to Latin America’s history of plantation-led socio-environmental change between 1850 and 1930. Historians Steven Topik and Allen Wells dubbed this period the ‘Second Conquest’ referring to the resumption of aggressive (neo)European expansion in the region.
  • Module Coordinator:
    • Dr Diogo de Carvalho Cabral/li>
  • Duration:
    • All year 
  • Contact Hours:
    • 3 hours per week
  • Weighting:
    • 20 ECTS
  • Assessment:
    • 40% essay, 60% examination

By the 1840s, eighteen new nation-states had emerged out of the collapse of the Ibero-American colonial empires. These nation-building developments entailed the brutal exploitation of natural and human resources: the newly-established bureaucracies relied on the taxation of commodity exports to Western Europe and the United States, where fossil fuel-led industrialization was creating massive urban proletariats. Latin America became a major supplier of these commodities, especially sugar, coffee, cocoa, and bananas, grown as large monocultural cash crops. This ‘economy of desserts’ reorganized Latin American and Caribbean landscapes through deforestation, the introduction of exotic species, ecosystem homogenization, and railroad networks connecting the hinterland to the main cities and ports. In addition, some of the plantation regimes were directly linked to what has been termed the ‘Second Slavery,’ the nineteenth-century expansion of the Atlantic slave trade and the use of chained Africans in agricultural frontiers such as the Cuban sugar economy and the Brazilian coffee zone. Even where slavery had been legally abolished, plantations brought significant socio-spatial changes through the displacement (and sometimes enslavement/coercion) of native peoples. Using primary sources (mostly American and European first-hand accounts), we will explore these processes through a detailed look at each of the ‘dessert plantations’ (sugar, coffee, cocoa, and bananas) in addition to rubber, the exception that confirmed the rule: an Amazonian wild species that could not be transformed into plantations – at least not in its native region.