Migrants in the Landscape. Ethnic Groups in New Environments, panel at the Anglo-American Conference, London 1-2 July, 2010

02/06/2010 00:00

Organizer: Marco Armiero, Bill Lane Center for the Study of the American West, Stanford University (Until February 2010); Institut de Ciència I Tecnologia Ambientales, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain



Marco Armiero, The Bill Lane Center for the American West, Stanford University/ICTA UAB Spain

armiero@stanford.edu (until February); armiero@issm.cnr.it    

Louis S. Warren, Dept. of History University of California, Davis,


Angus Wright, Environmental Studies Department, California State University

Sacramento, 6000 J Street, Sacramento, California





Marco Armiero

From Garlic Hill to Goatsville. Italians in the American Landscape  

As Alfred Crosby pointed out, with the advent of mass migration the earth was involved in the largest and quickest movement of biomass across the ocean.

Indeed, the passage of that special biomass, the mass migration, implied the movement of both nature and culture. Human migrants crossed the oceans carrying with them cultures and hopes, bodies and skills, techniques and crops. Their skills, knowledge, bodies, even their ethnic identities interacted with local environments, affecting both people and the land.

I will discuss these issues using as a case-study the Italian immigrants in the U.S. West and South; I will analyze how Italians, just as other ethnic immigrant groups, brought a different vision of nature and built new relationships with local environments. In the case studies that I will examine, Italian immigrants shaped the landscape, saw natural resources where others could see nothing, many times fighting against other ethnic groups for access and use of local environments.




Angus Wright,

Environment degradation as a cause of migration. 

Declining production in agricultural areas due to deterioration of soils has long been significant in creating pressures for rural people to migrate to other regions or nations. Soil deterioration and/or chronic droughts or floods due to global climate change is likely to be important in creating migrations of rural people in the future, making it more urgent that we understand the factors involved. In this paper, we review the case of soil deterioration as a factor in the emigration of Mexican indigenous people and contrast it with the ongoing changes occuring as a result of rural migrants moving into the Amazon basin in Brazil. A particular focus is the way in which the pre-emigration experience has or has not shaped environmental adaptations in the regions receiving new migrants. The paper identifies key factors that may be critical in determining whether migration creates improved prospects for human welfare and environmental stability or merely continues processes of exploitation and resource degradation.


Louis S. Warren

Migration and Environmental Crisis in Frontier Nevada

No nineteenth-century U.S. province endured a more abject environmental and economic collapse than Nevada. By the time the state’s lucrative silver mines played out in the late 1870s, the state’s primary energy supply – wood from regional forests - - was largely gone. A surge in cattle ranching demolished arid country grasslands by the latter 1880s, contributing to the disastrous “white winter” of 1889 when millions of cattle died of starvation and exposure, demolishing the open-range cattle industry. But while a few historians have explored these developments, none have examined them in the context of Nevada’s peculiar population, which was fully 30% foreign-born. Proportionally, no state had a more diverse population than Nevada’s in 1890, with Greeks, Chinese, Italians, Irish, Germans, and others scrabbling to produce wealth from a landscape of mounting scarcity. 

Thus the landscape of environmental disaster was a landscape of migration. How did the state’s immigrants contribute to the reshaping of high desert ecosystems? How did the impoverished land influence immigrant livelihood (or the lack thereof) in wood shortages which imposed greater transport costs on the heavily-Chinese woodcutting population? And how did the environmental crises of this period influence immigrant decisions about where and how to work, what to be, who to befriend, and who to fight? This paper will explore these and related questions.


Program at https://www.history.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Programme.pdf

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