Works of Interest.

H-Net Reviews:  Lisa Yun. The Coolie Speaks: Chinese Indentured Laborers and African Slaves in Cuba. I have not read the book yet–no time–but it strikes me as being really interesting. Henry Louis Gates recently completed a tour and examination of African slaves in Latin America, and it bears looking at, for in Mexico, at least, the African presence and interweave within the social braid is obligatorily forgotten, or rather, suppressed as historical and social fact.

Another text that discovered facets of Caribbean history I’d not really attended to had to do with the role the mosquito played in the region: JR McNeil’s Mosquito Empires. As most know, there was no malaria nor yellow fever nor their vector mosquitos prior to European slavetraders. Their advent laid waste to the native population–and it also decimated the Europeans, who took European wars of property and propriety to the region. As the reviewer, Jefferson Dillman, of UTexas writes:

It is astounding to consider that one of the largest factors in shaping the early modern Caribbean geopolitical environment was one of its smallest denizens. Yet that is exactly what J. R. McNeill argues in Mosquito Empires. In this learned and wide-ranging work, McNeill explores the role of the mosquito as a disease vector and its subsequent effect on how empires were gained, maintained, and lost in an era before the development of effective tropical medicine. From the decimation of malaria- and yellow fever-resistant native populations, the importation of African diseases and vectors, and the creation of mosquito-friendly landscapes to the role of disease in both protecting Spanish possessions in the Caribbean and in supporting revolutions against established powers, McNeill’s arguments are well crafted, thought provoking, and often ingenious.

The work of history and cultural critique has never been more interesting. The fields have abandoned the preciousness and theory choke of the post 1968 moment and refined itself to careful historical tracing and ruthless examination of its project *as* history, so it is not fleshed genealogy or fictionalized but uncontextualized fact. 

This is an important evolution, for it’s not about the past, it’s always about the narrative–the constituting story of our present–that shapes our world and how we consider our role in shaping it. So if I have a notion that there was no meaningful role played by the mosquito in Caribbean history, then the way I approach certain things, like disease control, will differ. Sure, it’s a version of, “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it,” but it’s one thing to tout an aphorism without meaning and it’s quite another to act knowing (more or less) what one is doing and why: with a fairly good understanding of the logical outcome.


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