Reframing knowledge in colonization: Plebeians and municipalities in the environmental expertise of the Spanish Atlantic

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Promoting a better understanding of the phenomenon of colonization and its connection with environmental knowledge and technology, this article proposes a reframing of research agendas to take into account the municipal character of colonization in the Hispanic realm and to ask new questions. Questions should address what human–ecosystem relations, and the ways of knowing and techniques for transforming the physical realm, can tell us about colonization itself; who the historical agents involved were, and what these actors knew, learned, and did in their environments. Using the Basin of Mexico’s drainage and the agency of commoners, this article proposes that colonization depends on the massive deployment and generation of tacit knowledge about how to harness matter, energy, and time for the reproduction of human societies; the quotidian appropriation and reworking of autochthonous knowledge, techniques, and technology by the colonizing groups; the collaboration of the local populations in whom these are vested; and the agency of commoners with practical skills, environmental knowledge, and technological savvy derived from and honed in the realm of material production. In the Ibero-American realm, these agents were primarily commoners with skills in agropastoral production and the building trades; race, ethnicity, language, and gender were secondary conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-252
Number of pages19
JournalHistory of Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science


  • Colonization
  • Habsburg rule
  • architecture and construction
  • cities
  • environmental engineering
  • environmental expertise
  • hydraulic technology
  • land
  • settlement
  • soils
  • water


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