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Open Access Publications from the University of California

From Paradise to the Extractive Zone: Anthropogenic Environmental Change and Historical Agency in Antonio de León Pinelo’s El paraíso en el Nuevo Mundo


This essay provides an interpretation of Antonio León Pinelo’s ideas on natural history and anthropogenic environmental change. It is centered on Pinelo’s El Paraíso en el Nuevo Mundo, a mid-seventeenth-century work that combines narratives regarding the geographical location of the Garden of Eden with theories on the natural history of the Indies. Building on studies that examine narratives on environmental change in the context of European expansion, this article intervenes in a growing academic literature that explores how societies have debated the political imbalances of climate change since the early modern period. In doing so, it highlights the importance of recognizing how discourses on climate and environmental change are forged through evolving conceptions of historical agency. Thus, the article examines Pinelo’s work as part of a broader corpus of narratives identifying human-initiated socio-ecological change linked to European colonial expansion. It reveals how writing about anthropogenic environmental-making processes implies generating the historical agent that has the authority to discipline and transform the environment. Here, it shows how Pinelo’s work minimizes Indigenous capacities to master the environment by subordinating their historical agency to the history of Nature. Ultimately, the article argues that writing about anthropogenic environmental-making processes reflects specific dynamics of domination that historians grappled with as they negotiated the political terms of Western ecological imperialism.

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