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Title: Resources, environment, and rural development in Uruguay, 1779-1913
Author: Travieso Barrios, Emiliano
ISNI:       0000 0004 9353 8642
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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This dissertation examines the history of agricultural change in Uruguay over the long nineteenth century, as a case study in the agrarian roots of Latin American long-term development. Cowhides were first exported on a large scale in 1779, under Spanish rule, starting a series of commodity booms that culminated with frozen beef in 1913. By then, Uruguay had the highest number of cows per person and one of the highest per capita incomes in the world; the country only retains the first of those accolades today. How were resources (natural and human) put to work to lay that development path? Which were its environmental basis and limits? To answer these questions, I draw on a wide range of previously under-utilised primary sources, as well as on present-day scientific literature on grassland ecology. My approach is methodologically eclectic, and techniques vary as suits the diversity of the materials and the questions asked in each chapter. These include different quantitative methods (from descriptive statistics to regression analysis), georeferencing and an array of data visualizations, as well as instances of micro-historical narrative. A major concern throughout is to place the Uruguayan case in comparative perspective, mainly within Latin America but also beyond, in order to consider the findings of this dissertation in relation to the wider history of ‘agrarian capitalism,’ and to interrogate the usefulness of that term itself. It is found that in the late-nineteenth century, as lands were enclosed with steel wire, traditional grazing on unfenced ranges gave way to agricultural innovations for which latifundia were neither an obstacle nor a necessity. Fertile land, still physically abundant, was now institutionally scarce, which encouraged immigrants to concentrate in cities and find urban occupations. However, agriculture remained the largest employer in the economy, with rural wage labour becoming increasingly permanent rather than seasonal. While these changes underpinned the rising productivity of agriculture, they greatly limited the resources for smallholder farming, completing a process of concentration and specialization which began during the ill-named ‘lost decades’ in the aftermath of independence. This profound transformation in working people’s relation to the land shaped the agricultural landscapes, economic specialization, and demographic patterns that define modern Uruguay. But rural development and its legacy were also about what did not change. Throughout the nineteenth century and beyond, the agricultural export economy continued to draw its comparative advantage from the ecological services of its grassland environment. As these became more expensive relative to the declining terms of trade of beef, leather, and wool, Uruguayan agriculture entered a long cycle of stagnation: the background to the country’s divergent twentieth-century siesta.
Supervisor: Austin, Gareth Sponsor: Cambridge International Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Uruguay ; Economic history ; Environmental history ; Latin America ; Agrarian capitalism ; Rural slavery ; Latifundia ; Rural modernization ; Occupational structure