Monthly Archives: May 2013

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Ctrl + F = Unsung Research Hero

Recently, I was sitting at my desk looking over some pdf for a class when my wife asked “What are you doing?”  Commonly, I am frustrated by the immense number of learning curves “new” things require of me; televisions, computers, software, updates, compatibility issues, etc., etc., etc.  My wife, being the college graduate she is, told me a secret:  “Ctrl + F,” she whispered.  Never again will the woes associated with searching documents tirelessly for phrases and sentences, paragraphs and nomenclatures, dates and publishers be omnipresent during my research!!!

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Aspects of “everyday life” in Latin America between 1821-1880

In Latin America during the 60 years after independence, the uncertain political environment and frequent warfare adversely affected the material well-being of a large number of people of all social classes.

Many aspects of life were transformed due to the overwhelming political instability and infancy stage of nationalization for much of Latin America. 

The Gaucho culture of the Pampas-

Argentina essentially fostered a cowboy culture that was quite prolific.  It also transcended many of the racial woes that were rampant much further north in Latin America.  This way of life and culture became focused on work ethic, rather than race.  However, inevitably, a cowboy caste of sorts emerged. Incredibly, this was in spite of much of Argentina’s European orientation due to incredible amounts of Italians, Spanish, Germans, Irish, and Jewish immigrants to the area.

Urban Life-

Urban centers in Latin America were very grand.  The development of these powerful spheres of influence were fewer in number than their rural counterparts, but their economic influence certainly could be felt much further.  As aforementioned, the immigrant populations to cities like Buenos Aires stimulated a great deal of economic and social intracacies.

Village Life-

Life in more rural settings was preferred amongst Latin America’s large indegenious and native populations.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of their lives in the countryside is their unique blending of religion.  Often, these essentially locally autonomous regions of Latin America went unfettered by western influences during the era.  However, by this time the people had already adopted a great deal of western values, mores and societal norms; religion being no different.  Natives forged Christianity and Indegenious as they had since European contact was made, although after independence was achieved, it became more a part of their culture than something imposed.

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The Struggle for Independence in Mexico, Venezuela, & Argentina, 1808-1823

“Three of the most important…upheavals…for the future independence of Latin America, occurred in Mexico, Argentina, and Venezuela” (Wasserman, p. 223). 

In many ways, Mexico’s struggle was the most visible (and thus is historically as well).  It was vast and well-developed in most senses of the word.  As we learn from the text, the sense of order that was created by the insurge of juntas and cabildos and their associated legislative carrying-outs during periods of confusion and unrest.  Of course, great amounts of civil unrest were the result of European trife that took shape in the form of Napolean Bonaparte and his instillment of French royalty to Spanish thrones.  This greatly undercut any loyalty that lower class subjects in Mexico had to their “mother country”.  Because of their undying mutual distrust (with good cause) of Peninsulares and Creoles, they thought less of resistence to the crown because at least the power was saddled with the Spanish (with whom they knew what to expect) rather than their domestic enemies in class warfare.  It would ultimately be these lower classes that would band together under the leadership of Hidalgo.  He raised “60,000 people, of whom about half were Indians and 20 percent were mestizos” (Wasserman, p. 218). His “Grito De Delores” was a preemptive attack on Spanish authorities in September 1810. Although he was killed, his movement continued to propel Mexicans (eventually) of all classes toward independence through a succession of different young leaders.  Along the way, they passed the Constitution of 1812, “which considerably limited the powers of any future restored monarchy.  The absolute kingship was to be no longer” (wasserman, p. 218).  Intellectual and locally-organized American (Mexican) forces were at play when Ferdinand assumed the throne after a significant 6 year period of American self-rule.  They eventually made him accept their written constitution against his initial wishes.  Ultimately, the independence movement of Mexico could not reach its fulcrum until both creoles and lower classes banded together under under the combined forces of Itubide and Guerrero respectively.  “Over the next several months, Spanish authority simply collapsed in New Spain.  [On] September [(is this a magical month or something?)] 16 of 1821…[they were] triumph[ant]” (Wasserman, p.227).

Argentina’s size is quite vast as well, which perhaps added to the difficulties associated with independence.  Nonetheless, the Argentines were some of the first of any of the Latin American countries to gain independence.  While this was largely considered the peripheral realm of New Spain, it should not be a suprise that its domestic furtherment and development in terms of infrastructure and economy would contribute to the significant attempts of Bourbon Reforms to gain proper footholdings in the region once and for all.  While a great number of Argentines experienced little dissonance with the crown, in terms of everyday living, it seemed as if they had a somewhat easier time convincing themmselves of intentions to autonomize.  “the port town of Buenos Aires reaped significant benefits from the Bourbon kings’ efforts to develop the empire’s periphery” (Wasserman, p. 225).

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The crown’s new interest in Argentina brought a new sense of self awareness to the people of this Latin American country.  They began to organize themselves much like that of their northern contemporaries.  Much of the Creole population asserted itself greatly during the “volativile years that followed the Napoleonic invasion of Spain” (wasserman, p.226) and thus, gained proper footing in what is referred to as “the patriot agenda” (wasserman, p.226).  “Spanish authority had ended in Buenos Aires, never to reappear…in May of 1810” (Wasserman, p.226).  In the wake of this faux independence (that was quite literally independence indeed), Argentina began to really flourish, especially within its cattle exports.

Venezuela is perhaps one of the most “peripheral parts of the empire” (Wasserman, p.227), just as Argentina had previously been.  There, the formation and further development of goverment offices were attempted by locals who desired a more autonomous state from under the thumb of Spain.  After erronous attempts in 1810, Royalists reaffirmed the need to align the country with that of Spain.  However, the seed had certainly been planted.  Eventually in 1814, Jose Tomas Boves and his mulatto and black llaneros (cowboys) forces  overthrew then (upper class) leader  Simon bolivar.  After internal class warfare waged on for a number of years, Bolivar returned to the region to fight for independence alongside those that had originally ousted him.  They were successful in transformation of the political landscape and “by 1822, he had assured the independence of the Republic of Gran Colombia, consisting of present-day Colombia as well as Venezuela and Ecuador” (wasserman, p.227)!!!

Source: Cheryl Wasserman, Latin America & Its People, (Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2012).

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The EEC in Africa = Advocate or Adversary?

The EEC, European Economic Community, means nothing but the best.  They, made up of the cream of the crop from their respective countries and regions’ anthropological and social sectors.  They seek to help Africans preserve their history through a series of museum installations across the dark continent.  The organization has gained much support throughout the EU, North and South America, Asia and the Middle East for their efforts to assist the people of Africa in the preservation of their cultural heritage. 

“In 2008,” the EEC has been credited with opening “the re-vamped Kenya National Museum…opened with great fanfare” (Miller, 2012, p.322).  I personally can attest to the eagerness of Kenyans to learn about their heritage.  However, I have come to understand through rooming with a Swahili gentlemen in University that much of their preservation is through that of oral tradition.

Much of the arguments against and criticisms that the EEC have accrued are merely that of “whether objects from non-Western cultures should be exhibited, like western art objects, with little or no ethnographic context” (Miller, 2012, p.322).  To me, the very nature of this argument is embedded in that still of ethnocentric-isms.  It fails to rise to the occasion of addressing this issue.

Perhaps the most pressing issue for cultural anthropologists, ethnographers, linguists, and especially cultural preservationists is to what extent are these museums effecting the oral tradition that many of these cultures have come to rely on?  Is there a wall somewhere to which all village elders are speaking their last indegenous words?

Source: Barbara Miller, “Cultural Anthropology,” (Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2012).

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Will Masai pastoralists adopt gardening in plastic bags, pots or bottles? (A. TONIUTTI / Willem VAN COTTHEM)

My thoughts: Only if it is feasable! But, undoubtedly, yes (in spite of my tendencies toward non-linear models of livelihood and reality)!

CONTAINER GARDENING

That’s the basic question coming to my mind when I was reading Alessandra TONIUTTI’s message :

‘Dear Doctor Van Cotthem,

I read with a lot of interest your various articles on container gardening and cultivation of plants under drought conditions.

I am from Italy. A couple of years ago I made friends with some Tanzanian Masai who live on the Northern coast close to the city of Handeni. I spent a fortnight at their village. The Masai are pastoralists and not at all accustomed to cultivation. They use the little money they have to buy rice, flour, beans, tomato, carrots and other vegetables. They have no idea where to start from in terms of cultivation practices and it is a fact that they live in a very dry area. Getting water from holes miles away is a very toilsome task and every single drop is a value in itself.

I…

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Scam City: Buenos Aires

Several nights ago a television series entitled Scam City premiered.  It sought to help tourists avoid traps of counterfeiting, pick-pocketing, and down-right thievery.  I thought perhaps it was a bit unfair to portray the country of Argentina in such a way based on some of the worst areas of its Capitol, and additionally, most populated city.

Let’s hear from some people from Argentina.  What is your country really like?  Is the aforementioned portrayal fair or not?  Can this be avoided? Was this merely sensationalism?

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