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2110 SPEEDWAY , Austin, Texas 78705

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Claudia Leal

Department of History, Universidad de Los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia

2018-19 Fellow National Humanities Center



In 1948, Colombia created its first protected area, the Macarena Mountain Biological Reserve, to preserve a very ancient massif that sits at the convergence of three biomes: Amazonia, the savannas of the Orinoco River, and the Andes. A confluence of yellow-fever research, oil prospecting, and the spread of aviation enabled conservation to be conceived of exclusively in the name of science. The inception and early years of this reserve show how the expansion of the state in the fields of economic development, welfare, and education, alongside its entanglements with international scientific networks, created a space in which the foundation of a novel state responsibility—caring for nature—could be laid. But war and social inequality revealed the limits of this experiment.


Claudia Leal is the author of Landscapes of Freedom: Building a Postemancipation Society in the Rainforests of Western Colombia (University of Arizona Press, 2018) and co-editor of A Living Past, Environmental Histories of Modern Latin America (Berghahn Books, 2018). Holding a PhD in Geography from the University of California at Berkeley, she is vice-president of the International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations (ICEHO) and was co-president of the Latin American and Caribbean Society for Environmental History (SOLCHA).

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