In brief: Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba

Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution
Sherry Johnson
2011, University of North Carolina Press
306 pages, hardback, maps

HIDDEN away in this unassuming yet delicately researched monograph could be the grain of a monumentally important development in Latin American history which has been slowly but surely coming of age only in recent years. Johnson’s pioneering thesis suggests plausibly that environmental factors played a catalytic role in colonial – and hence global – history, making this a work both of originality and of vision. The author argues that extreme weather events in the Caribbean between 1750-1800 and their diverse impacts, such as food shortages, created conditions for the adoption of free trade in the Americas and subsequent revolutionary unrest on the eve of Independence. It is an important alternative perspective to mainstream study that prioritises politics and economy, because it makes ecological factors the engine of history at a time when environmental affairs in Latin America are emerging from the shadows as a theme of mainstream study and the region’s diverse ecology itself is influencing new directions in global governance. This book is a triumph of disciplinary integration, skilfully providing a new model of scholarship by weaving together historical climatology, environmental history and colonial history. It should be placed towards the top of the reading lists of modules ranging from Latin American history and politics to international relations and, of course, environmental studies. – GO’T