Article ID: CBB792652142

A Cautionary Tale of Environmental Management: Malaria, Water Management, and Land Reclamation in Twentieth-Century Guatemala (July 2021)


In the late 1920s, Guatemala embarked on environmental drainage projects aimed at eradicating mosquito breeding grounds. Designed to improve people’s lives, these efforts sometimes inadvertently undermined them, draining away water crucial to public hygiene campaigns. Although the goals of controlling malaria and expanding arable land were often in lockstep, the Guatemalan case of Lake Quinizilapa requires a more nuanced analysis. Bringing the historiographies of the environment and public health and medicine to bear on environmental management projects, this article demonstrates that environmental management and scientific medicine were as much about leveraging disease as eradicating it. Whereas Hispanic authorities could maintain theories disproven by entomology and parasitology without much criticism, indígenas (indigenous people) who articulated notions that contradicted science and challenged engineering’s supremacy were disparaged as ignorant inditos (little Indians). Intriguingly, the indigenous conception of the natural world more accurately predicted the outcome of the lake’s drainage prior to World War II. Political power and ethnicity determined the legitimacy of perspectives about the environment and disease.

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Authors & Contributors
Webb, James L. A., Jr.
Guillemin, Jeanne
Iijima, Wataru
Carey, David, Jr.
Gardikas, Katerina
Parker, Chad H.
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Agricultural History
Journal of Contemporary History
Cold War History
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Cambridge University Press
Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai
Boston University
Texas State Historical Association
Routledge India
Public health
Disease and diseases
Medicine and government
Indigenous peoples; indigeneity
Ross, Ronald
Laveran, Alphonse
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
18th century
21st century
United States
East Asia
Republic of Liberia
Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Md.)
Johns Hopkins Hospital
United Nations
Rockefeller Foundation
World Health Organization (WHO)
Tennessee Valley Authority

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