Thesis ID: CBB214975419

Innovation in the Tropics: The Persistence of Beekeeping Knowledge in the Yucatan Peninsula, 1780-1950 (2023)


This dissertation examines the history of beekeeping in the Yucatán Peninsula, México, from the late colonial period to the first half of the twentieth century. It illustrates how beekeepers have interacted with different species of bees to extract honey and beeswax, under different agricultural regimes. It explores how the method called modern apiculture—the most widely-accepted among the world’s beekeepers since the twentieth century—is based on the breeding of the honeybee, or Apis mellifera, a European native that did not exist in the Americas prior to European colonization. Although Apis mellifera had been expanding across the New World due to human-assisted migration since the beginning of colonization, it was not until the nineteenth century that apiculturists were able to relocate the species extensively and systematically from Europe to northern regions of the United States. From there it rapidly spread south to Florida during the late nineteenth century, reaching Cuba and México in the early twentieth century. A few decades later, Apis mellifera had come to populate the entire continent and was the quintessential pollinator and producer of industrial honey, not just in the region but across the whole world. I argue that in the twentieth century, beekeepers, entomologists, and apiculturists relocated Apis mellifera to environments that were already rich in bee biodiversity, such as southeastern México, where Yucatec Maya communities had developed a sophisticated system of beekeeping with the stingless bee Melipona beecheii, which is also capable of producing large quantities of honey and wax and has been bred for such purposes for over 2,500 years. Furthermore, this dissertation illustrates how Melipona beecheii has been ecologically, culturally, and economically important in the Yucatán Peninsula for centuries. By reconstructing how beekeepers have interacted with different bee species for honey and beeswax production under different agricultural regimes, I reconstruct the role of innovation among local experts, the resistance patterns of beekeepers and bees in the economy, territory, and society over the centuries, and the impact of industrialization processes in tropical landscapes.

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Authors & Contributors
Moreno, Paola Peniche
Bennett, Brett M.
de Jaime Gómez, José
de Jaime Lorén, José María
Ebert, Adam W.
Few, Martha
Agricultural History
Asclepio: Archivo Iberoamericano de Historia de la Medicina
British Journal for the History of Science
Earth Sciences History: Journal of the History of the Earth Sciences Society
Environment and History
Lexington Books
University of Arizona Press
University of Chicago Press
University of New Mexico Press
University of North Carolina Press
Bees; apiculture
Mayan civilization
Public health
Disease and diseases
Sapper, Karl
Shapin, Steven B.
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
18th century
17th century
16th century
20th century
Yucatán (Mexico)
Latin America
Great Britain

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