Monday, July 9, 2012

Nicaraguan Research

Keeping your research interests alive in a remote rural university requires flexibility. As the only faculty member at AU writing about Latin America for many years, I talked to myself a lot.

But over the years a good sum of my time remained dedicated to continued research into Nicaraguan social history because I was able to maintain a few long distance research networks, but also because I cultivated oblique opportunities, and was able to turn those into excellent outcomes.

Early on, in the earnest ways of the graduate researcher, I thought I could capture the popular religious forces at play in the Nicaraguan Revolution. I interviewed people and delved into libraries, archives, and hemerotecas in Nicaragua, looking for materials on religion and politics. At the same time I noticed, kept track of, and began compulsively collecting empirical materials about North Americans in Nicaragua, many of them Canadians.That material soon comprised a number of filing cabinets and large parts of my hard disks. One day, in casual discussion with my neighbor and friend, Jeremy Mouat, who is a gold mining historian, I mentioned the La Luz y Los Angeles gold mine that Sandino had destroyed in Siuna, Nicaragua in the late 1920s.

A week later Jeremy dropped by my office, with a large folder of engineering reports about the mine, including correspondence and descriptions about transport challenges to reach the region, labour force issues, local and national politics, observations on ecology, as well as opinions on the ore body, its worth, and attraction for global financiers. Basically, Jeremy introduced me to a whole world of new sources for the study of global financial and industrial imperialism in LA related to mining history, including engineering and political stability reports, and the records about political controversies surrounding foreign concessions.

We began to work together, combining Spanish language materials that I had collected about foreigners and foreign concessions in Nicaragua while working in various local archives in Managua, Granada, Bluefields, and Bilwi, and triangulating that work with archival collections in North America and Britain.

This is the first paper that we wrote:

Merchants, Mining, and Concessions on Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast: Reassessing the American Presence, 1893–1912, in Journal of Latin American Studies. Here we used a great run of U.S. State Department papers on Nicaragua, materials that we recovered at the old State Department Archives in downtown Washington D.C..

The most recent paper about "The Emery Claim in Nicaraguan and US history" ( again with Jeremy Mouat) captures much more of that nuanced theoretical and empirically detailed investigation  into imperialism and internal Nicaraguan politics. La Enojosa CuestiĆ³n de Emery 1890-1910

In both papers we engage the dominant historiography of Nicaragua and Central America, offering a counter-reading of area studies.

So serendipity can be important, alongside thorough, investigative research work.

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