Rubber boom narratives and the development of the Amazon




Carey-Webb, Jessica Ann

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This dissertation examines how race and gender inform structures of imperialism in the Amazon during a period of heightened national and international attention from the late 19th to the early 20th century. Representations of the Amazon at this crucial period both during and later depicting the rubber boom, are full of ambiguities between civilized and savage, center and periphery, nature and culture. The Amazon emerges as a distinct region, a natural paradise devoid of civilization and in need of preservation, a place of promising riches, and/or a blank screen on which to project western ideas of progress. The material I consider includes natural histories, travelogues, biography, fiction, photographs, and film. These texts represent many different genres and all aim to define, categorize, represent, or collect Amazonian territories and peoples in ways that transform territory to establish modern national societies, economies, and authorities. At the heart of this study is the project of modernization, the coming into being of modern nation states and citizens participating in global and national capitalist economies with all of the gains and losses this process implies. Modernity is built out of power and conflict and depends not only on economic and political processes, but also on ways of knowing, understanding, and being. These diverse and complex documents, the knowledge they created about landscapes and people, and the way that they inscribe relations of power and ideas about economic, cultural, and national development worked to establish the contemporary Amazon. I look at the layered discursive and visual languages that produce the Amazon as a space of conflict representative of anxieties about modernization.


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