In 1872 the Argentine state founded the Argentine Meteorological Service (AMS) as an appendage of the National Observatory. Under the guidance of US astronomer Benjamin Apthorp Gould and his successor Walter Davis, the AMS created a national network of amateur weather observers spread throughout the nation and even past the nation's nineteenth-century borders. The AMS proposed to state officials that in time the weather data could help to better understand Argentina's environmental and climatological diversity and have significant political and economic influence on the nation's future. This article examines the AMS's foundation and development, placing it within the Argentine nation-state building process of the last third of the nineteenth century. It argues that the state used weather observation more as a tool of expansion, as in the case of Patagonia, than as a scientific endeavor. In the Patagonian territory of Chubut, settlers and soldiers who completed weather observations argued that their findings demonstrated Patagonia to be a region of limitless agricultural possibilities, even if the truth was far from that.
In 1872 argentine officials inaugurated the Argentine Meteorological Service (AMS) under the leadership of US-born astronomer Benjamin Apthorp Gould. As the first national weather service in South America, the AMS began as part of the Argentine National Observatory located in the sierras of the province of Córdoba (fig. 1). The Argentine state funded the AMS in the hopes that the institution could explain the nation's climate and diverse environments and serve as an important piece in the modernization of the nation. By 1915, under Gould's successor Walter G. Davis, an engineer by training, the AMS published ground-level weather maps of the nation; provided assistance in national public works projects; assisted scientific expeditions in Patagonia, Antarctica, and the Gran Chaco; aided the Argentine state during the international border negotiations with Chile; and formed a national community of volunteer weather observers present in every Argentine province, territory, and even in neighboring nations.
This article centers on the early decades of the AMS. It places the AMS within the converging waves of the maturation of the sciences in Argentina and the consolidation of the nation-state in the closing third of the nineteenth century. I focus on two points in particular. First, the AMS grew from the work of numerous volunteers who completed daily ground-level weather observations, which the institution's staff processed in the hopes of uncovering patterns, such as precipitation levels in the provinces and territories. The relationship between the AMS and its amateur observers presents what historians of science define as a mutual social and material interdependence in the creation of scientific knowledge and, in the case of this article, the building of the nation-state through a network of observers working on behalf of the state.1 Meteorology cannot be a solitary effort, nor is it confined to a laboratory. The greater the number of observers and the wider their spatial coverage, the better the results. Moreover, meteorology relies on the outside world and the social relations and infrastructure within that world to succeed. The AMS needed observers to take time from their personal lives to complete measurements and to learn how to care for their provided instruments. The institution also depended on observers who were willing to travel deep into the Argentine interior and into internationally disputed regions. Their work is one example of how nineteenth-century Latin American states relied on individuals to contribute to the nation's body of knowledge through their everyday observations, drawings, or notes on their surrounding environment, which helped cultivate an engaged citizenry.2 On the other hand, the observers relied on the AMS and the state to furnish the imported meteorological instruments, print detailed manuals on how to set up the equipment, guarantee the functioning of a national system of telegraph lines and railways to send information through, and to finance the shipment of the records from their homes to Córdoba. In short, the creation of knowledge in nineteenth-century Argentina was both a state- and citizen-driven process.
Second, although the material collected had little meteorological value on numerous grounds, its importance lay in the symbolic power it represented to the nineteenth-century Argentine state. To begin with, Argentina did not possess an active culture of amateur meteorological associations and lacked competing institutions vying to serve as the overseers of weather observation and hotly contested scientific debates on weather phenomena that advanced the formation of early national weather services in the nineteenth century.3 Down at the level of the observers, most were not meticulous in their work. They often skipped days or even weeks. Moreover, many worked with only some parts of the standard AMS meteorological instrument set. The data contained gaps as a result. In addition, their observations did not say much from a scientific perspective, as they consisted of only ground-level weather conditions. During the period discussed in this article, the AMS did not and could not complete upper atmospheric readings or observations over the ocean—two important spaces for meteorology. As historian James R. Fleming notes, if the atmosphere is perceived as an ocean of air and wind, the AMS worked only at the ocean floor with no idea of the “water's” surface.4 Rather, meteorology witnessed its most significant growth in the twentieth century as a field built on observations of the upper atmosphere and the formulation and application of atmospheric laws to “sufficiently” forecast the weather.5 Nonetheless, historian Fiona Williamson argues that historical weather observation data containing inaccuracies and gaps has value to historians, since it provides another layer of historical context—for instance, in illustrating what aspects of the weather societies valued or what instruments were readily available.6 Indeed, even in its early days, the AMS spoke little of hoping to predict the weather or engaging with global scientific debates in the forming field of meteorology. Its interest lay elsewhere.
Instead, the Argentine state and the AMS considered weather observation as a political tool and the resulting data moldable to advance political needs central to nineteenth-century Argentina. The state placed the AMS within the larger discussion of national expansion into the frontier, the role of the sciences making the nation “legible,” the strengthening of political linkages within the nation, and as a source of knowledge central to the foundation of a modern nation.7 Yet until the early 1860s the Argentine nation remained politically and culturally divided, and spatially disconnected. Following independence in 1816 the region experienced decades of internal conflict and division over the political ideologies of centralization versus provincial federalism that fueled a separation between the province of Buenos Aires and the other provinces. In addition, Argentina possesses few navigable rivers beyond eastern Argentina; and in the nineteenth century the nation contained few dependable roads that connected Buenos Aires to the interior provinces, and it had only limited rail service beyond Buenos Aires. These factors, combined with the nation's size, created a level of regionalism that fanned political divisions.
In the 1860s the division between Buenos Aires and the provinces ended, and the nation slowly came together.8 The newly consolidated Argentine state based in Buenos Aires—primarily under the control of provincial centrists—initiated various processes to consolidate the nation and integrate the frontier.9 Traditional historiography has emphasized the role of armies, war, high-level politics, and foreign capital to advance national unity, often through force and coercion.10
This article contributes to three trends in the more recent literature on Argentine state building. First, the AMS emerged at a time when the Argentine state increasingly invested in science and infrastructure as tools for nation-state building. For instance, historians of science and technology of nineteenth-century Argentina show that naturalists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and folklorists collected materials from the interior they then displayed in museums and national libraries for the public to observe and to bolster the state's claims over internationally contested spaces, such as Patagonia in the south and the Gran Chaco in the north.11 Second, beyond spaces and institutions of science, scholars have proposed the formation of the state in “everyday” situations through the work of everyday citizens and actors the literature has overlooked, such as women and Indigenous communities, who were central to the production of knowledge.12 Last, this article contributes to the increasing focus on the work of engineers as state builders. In the second half of the nineteenth century, engineers became important state agents of liberal Latin American states through projects that facilitated the expansion of the state through technology: railroads, dams, telegraphs, roads, and general maps. These large-scale projects, of which I include the AMS's network, required the creation of bureaucracies, the acquisition of capital, and labor.13 As the historian Kyle E. Harvey shows, engineers and their projects were crucial to the Argentine state's means of establishing its permanence in Patagonia.14 Thus, this article places the work of amateur weather observers as a service to the forming state.
In thinking of weather and state building, the AMS encapsulates Jürgen Osterhammel's description of the nineteenth century as a period in which the nation-state relied on counting and measuring as important tools of governing. Osterhammel notes that states of the period nurtured scientific institutions, since they provided quantitative and qualitative information that “describe[ed] the contemporary world and grasp[ed] the patterns and regularities beneath the surface of phenomena.”15 Indeed, historians of meteorology have shown that the field provides a perspective for studying state building, since the ability to monitor, measure, amass data, predict, and explain weather is an expression of power.16
The article begins with an overview of the close association between the state and the sciences and how Gould and government officials discussed the role of the AMS as a tool of expansion. The second part examines the creation of the amateur network and various hurdles in standardizing weather observation. The final section centers on the work of Col. Luis Jorge Fontana, whom the state employed to establish a military presence in the Chaco and Patagonia, and who also served as an AMS volunteer. As governor of Chubut he argued that meteorological observations highlighted the region's possibility for settlement through large-scale agricultural development. However, Fontana and the AMS often overestimated or contradicted their own preliminary results.17 Nevertheless, even in their overestimations, each highlighted the symbolic power of weather observations in governing.
Weather Observation and the Sciences as Agents of Expansion and Progress
From 1865 to 1868, the educator, politician, and writer Domingo F. Sarmiento served as Argentina's ambassador to the United States. Sarmiento shared in his writings that, while in the United States, he saw firsthand how education, science, and technology served as pillars for the formation of a progressive nation-state, which he wished to emulate in Argentina. In New England he toured universities, attended expositions and dinners, and mingled with important local figures such as geologist Louis Agassiz and astronomer Benjamin Gould. Following their initial contact, Gould wrote to Sarmiento inquiring about the Argentine government's interest in supporting a three-year mission for him to map the austral constellations from the sierras in the province of Córdoba.18 Gould chose Córdoba because of its higher altitude in relation to other areas of Argentina, its direct connection to a rail line, and his belief that the area possessed clear skies and a temperate climate, even though he had never visited. Sarmiento counter-proposed a state-funded national observatory for Gould to manage. The North American immediately accepted.19
Sarmiento was a leading political intellectual in nineteenth-century Argentina. He believed that Argentina was torn between a purported barbarous past and a potentially civilized future. Like many other state leaders throughout Latin America at the time, he held that civilization and modernity came from the application of certain elite-led factors, such as liberal economic policies, a centralized state, expansion of internal frontiers for settlement, industrialization, and the commissioning of foreign experts in the sciences. Indeed, Gould was one of many foreign experts Sarmiento invited to Argentina to establish and run programs, and educate locals, such as North American teachers at the Teaching College and School of Mining in his home province of San Juan in western Argentina.20
Sarmiento placed Gould's mission as another in a series of missions by foreigners who had explored the interiors of Argentina and considered the nation a prime area to make new scientific discoveries that could impact the globe.21 He declared in public speeches and news articles the importance of the observatory as a beacon of progress in the Argentine interior. As a provinciano, he held that the lands beyond Buenos Aires were an area of limitless possibilities that just needed the appropriate infusions of modernity, like places of higher education, libraries, and museums.22 Sarmiento concluded that in time Córdoba's observatory would become Argentina's center for the sciences, attract international astronomers to complete work and give public lectures, ascend to the same level of other astronomical institutions like Greenwich and Paris, and inspire a new generation of Argentine-born astronomers.23 Sarmiento's words found a receptive audience in the right places.
The state's support for the creation of the observatory took place at an important time in the history of the sciences in Argentina. Scholars Adriana Novoa and Alex Levine define the period as one in which “Argentine science and Argentine politics marched hand in hand.” The authors note that state officials looked to the sciences to solve Argentina's various political problems, namely, concerns of social, cultural, and economic underdevelopment, and political disunity.24 Museums emerged to provide scientists a space to register, catalog, and give order to their private collections, while the state viewed museums as edifices of “a civilized and advanced country.”25 By the 1880s museums became more specialized around scientific branches, such as paleontology, anthropology, archaeology, and astronomy. Simultaneously, other scientists formed private organizations, such as the Scientific Society of Argentina (1872) and an assortment of others in the medical sciences.26 The sciences also existed for the people, however. Writers, newspapers, and political groups, such as the Argentine Socialist Party, discussed a host of social and scientific topics ranging from Darwinism, political economy, and art to theosophy.27 Newspapers and scientific literature, which Argentines across class lines increasingly consumed at the time, equally promoted a narrative of technology and science “as instruments of economic modernization,” which entered into all areas of everyday life.28 Indeed, Latin American states from independence through the twentieth century strongly believed that society's “access to knowledge was intrinsic to the legitimacy of the new republics.”29 Thus the observatory signaled a continued support for the sciences and an expansion into new scientific fields.
Gould arrived in Córdoba to manage the National Observatory in 1871.30 He got off to a slow start, however, since construction crews did not finish the observatory on schedule, shipping companies lost his luggage, and the Franco-Prussian War delayed the shipment of astronomical materials from Europe.31 Looking to make the best of the situation, Gould used a pair of opera glasses he happened to carry in his personal luggage and his natural eyesight to measure the relative magnitude of stars to complete some initial mapping. This approach sufficed for a time, since the observatory stood on a hill in the middle of a valley that made the horizon visible from all directions.32 In addition, Gould noted that the “extreme transparency” of the atmosphere over Córdoba allowed him to see stars less visible to the naked eye with simple binoculars.33
But these temporary methods had limits. Gould discovered that the area's weather and environment complicated his ability to do even basic work. Unbeknownst to him, central Argentina experiences many seasonal weather occurrences and sudden storms, including supercells, that complicate astronomical work.34 Moreover, the famous strong winds coming from the west, known as pamperos, can have devastating results. Rushing down the Andes mountains, they gain speed as they move across the flat Argentine plains toward the Atlantic coast.35 The wind can reach speeds that destroy crops and whip up dust storms, and during the summer, heat waves fuel prairie fires that grow to the extent that observers at the time noted they blackened out the sun and moon for days.36
In 1872 Gould petitioned the federal government to finance the formation of the Argentine Meteorological Service to help the observatory complete its mapping of the stars. In addition, Gould promised that the processing of weather data could have political and economic benefits for the nation. Although an astronomer, Gould believed that his education in math and physics, and former position as a statistician for the United States Sanitary Commission's anthropometric study during the Civil War, prepared him to undertake the project. The anthropometric study, for instance, consisted of Gould and a staff recording the height, body proportion, skin complexion, and other physical attributes of union soldiers to statistically find the “average man” of each race.37 His work with the study foreshadowed many of the problems the AMS faced. For one, the commission experienced administrative difficulties, misused their measuring instruments, and made a host of procedural errors.38 Gould noted in the final report that he worked in poor conditions and with a staff that “had no previous knowledge of these matters, and who received no instruction except in circulars”—an approach he continued in Argentina.39 Yet Gould's transition to different fields was not out of the ordinary.
By the late nineteenth century, the field of statistics went through what statistician-historian Stephen Stigler describes as a horizontal and vertical development.40 Horizontally, statistical methods increasingly appeared in astronomy, biology, and the social sciences, to name a few. In relation to vertical growth, statisticians strove to reduce errors through slowly combining measurements. However, Gould's prior statistical experiences consisted of large and, most importantly, stable datasets. A person's height or a planet's constellation does not change, unlike temperature, which fluctuates in a location over the course of time. Anthropometric measurements, for instance, did not contain the equivalents of sudden chaotic storms or squall winds in their datasets. Argentine state leaders, nonetheless, believed in the power of numbers and statistics.
In the closing quarter of the nineteenth century, Argentina experienced significant change. The population steadily grew from immigration into both cities and the countryside, commerce bustled around a core of agricultural exports, the nation experienced numerous epidemics as part of its increased global connections, and borders expanded. The state commissioned national censuses to understand the scale of change. Historian Hernán Otero's study on the nation's first three censuses (1869, 1895, and 1914) notes that officials looked to the census and statistics as tools to “analyze the basic elements of the social fabric through the acquisition of quantitative indicators that revealed the viability of the nation and society in formation.”41 The census data revealed patterns that pinpointed exact spaces in need of state intervention to shape society in a modern image.42 As a result, the Argentine state was fluent in the language of governing through numbers in the 1870s.
The notion of quantitative indicators and legibility underwrote Gould's discussion of the AMS and connected the institution to larger political goals. He stated that weather observation and recording was “of the utmost importance, not only in applying in scientific order, but also instilling economic order” over the nation.43 In relation to agriculture, for instance, Gould stressed that collecting daily temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, and rain measurements and noting weather phenomena, such as thunderstorms, pamperos, and hailstorms, provided a clearer indication of what crops were appropriate for a region, as well as their ideal growing season, in contrast to relying on the hearsay of local farmers. Moreover, Gould believed the AMS could propose theories and generalizations of Argentina's climate zones. This information could assist the state in deciding where to establish agricultural colonies, as those in Santa Fe and Entre Rios formed as early as the 1850s and that increased in number beginning in the 1870s throughout the nation including in northern Patagonia.44 Last, the AMS contributed to the state's push for administrative centralization. The AMS consolidated the processing of weather data at its offices. The AMS initially relied on teachers in the national college system, and later expanded the volunteer network to non-teachers, but excluded locals and farmers who knew their areas' general climate better.45
Not all government officials shared in the excitement, however. As historians Marina Rieznik and Andrea Comerci note in their study on the congressional debates on the observatory and the AMS, some members of Argentina's congress opposed funding, since they considered meteorology theoretically useful but impractical and wasteful.46 Nonetheless, in October 1872 the Argentine government approved the creation of the Argentine Meteorological Service (AMS) as a subdivision of the National Observatory. The vast majority of national politicians saw the wide applicability of meteorology in fields such as epidemiology and immigration, and they were less concerned with the scientific value in knowing the atmosphere.47
Nicolás Avellaneda, minister of justice, education, and culture—which initially oversaw the AMS—and eventual president (1874–80), best encapsulates the positive sentiment of Argentine liberal elites for Gould's proposal. A native of the northwestern province of Tucumán, Avellaneda was born into a prominent liberal elite family that had long supported a strong centralized state. He was a close friend of Sarmiento and, like many others of his generation, believed that progress came through expanding national borders and contracting foreign experts. During his presidency, Avellaneda tasked the military with pushing the nation's border to the northern limits of the modern province of Río Negro, in what is known as the “Conquest of the Desert.” Under General Julio Roca, also from Tucumán and who succeeded Avellaneda as president and continued the conquest, the military killed, enslaved, and forced Indigenous people of La Pampa and Patagonia into reservations or to labor in the sugarcane fields of Tucumán where many died.48
Avellaneda enthusiastically supported the idea of a national weather program even if neither versed in the language of meteorology and geography nor fully aware of what minimal information the observations could produce. Alongside agricultural development and scientific discovery, Avellaneda also tied weather to expansion. Avellaneda considered the AMS an important endeavor to understand the “climatic peculiarities” and the “atmospheric laws” that existed over Argentina and the frontier. He bargained that in discovering the unique factors of Argentina's atmosphere and connections, the data would help the state further its claims over Patagonia in the south and the Gran Chaco in the north in direct opposition to foreign claims.49 Indeed, Avellaneda's stance demonstrates what other historians have described as “environmental nationalism” and “analogous geographies,” by which weather patterns could provide an environmental and politically justifiable linkage between the Argentine landmass and the desired territories.50 As the AMS began operating, Argentine explorers increasingly traversed the frontier and wrote on their findings to an eager Argentine audience and cultivated what Carolyne R. Larson describes as “cultural citizenship,” in which mass-produced knowledge bolstered feelings of national belonging and interconnectedness.51 For instance, the Argentine explorer Francisco P. Moreno, who traveled to the western and southern edges of Patagonia, detailed the local flora and fauna, the hydrological layout of the region, and preliminary weather observations to entice colonization of the region and underscore its importance to the nation.52
Thus the Argentine state and Gould established the first national weather service in South America. Initially, the AMS grew slowly, as Gould faced various hurdles in acquiring supplies and materials to lay the groundwork for a national weather service, no different from the National Observatory. But unlike the observatory, which functioned with a small staff and in one location, the AMS needed and depended on a vast network of volunteers that shared in the enthusiasm of observing the weather.
Laying the Foundation: From Hobby to Collective Action
Following the approval of the AMS, Gould researched government archives to find any past formal or informal weather observations completed in Argentina. He discovered in the Anuario estadístico, an annual government almanac, some collections of weather observations that dated back to the years following independence that came from diarists and people associated with the National College in Buenos Aires.53 The collection demonstrated a popular interest in the weather in the absence of formal institutions to build on.
However, the material had a limited spatial coverage and no uniform methodology. First, almost all the amateur recorders lived in the city of Buenos Aires. Outside the port city, one diarist resided in the port town of Bahia Blanca in the far southern tip of the province of Buenos Aires and another in the western province of Mendoza. As a result, no data existed for the central and northern regions. Second, the observers worked inconsistently and repeatedly changed their methodology with no explanation, such as the case of Manuel Moreno who took weather readings from an unspecified location in the city of Buenos Aires from 1821 to 1823. In the early months of his scientific work, Moreno noted measurements of the temperature, wind direction, and general observations, such as rain or hail, at 5 a.m., 2 p.m., and 10 p.m. By 1822 Moreno expanded his categories of measurements to barometric pressure and rainfall. At that same point, Moreno also changed the times he took readings of the temperature to 7 a.m., 2 p.m., and 10 p.m., while for unspecified reasons he completed barometric readings at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 6 p.m., and humidity only at noon. By the last readings in June 1823, Moreno had synchronized all the measurements.54 Third, none of the diarists included what instruments they employed and how they acquired the materials. Fourth, some observers did not use any instruments. Instead they relied on their own senses to make qualitative observations of the weather, which still have some merit.55 Last, other examples merged quantitative and qualitative methods. Moreno, for instance, often skipped days or described others as “clear and beautiful, strong winds.”56 But observations are subjective to the person, the location, and the season, even more subjective in an area known to be exceptionally windy.
Nonetheless, Gould saw a silver lining in the records. The collections in the Anuario presented a foundation to build on for a national network of observers through natural interest and accessibility to instruments. By the early nineteenth century, affluent people purchased thermometers and barometers as symbols of status, wealth, and intellectual curiosity, even if they knew little about them.57 Thus it is likely the recorders were wealthy and ordered the instruments from Europe as part of the many European goods that arrived to the globally connected port of Buenos Aires. Moreover, the location of observers revealed interest in weather beyond the city of Buenos Aires.
These historical records also highlighted the need for the standardization of units of measurement and time in Argentina, which the AMS undertook. Gould noted in his yearly report the numerous discrepancies in the materials the state provided and the initial observations from volunteers. For instance, official maps misplaced the location of towns in the provinces. Moreover, in the 1870s Argentina did not possess a national standard time, meaning that each province, town, and settlement reported varying times, with differences as much as thirty-five minutes. The AMS reports noted that observers who lived near railroad stations used the adjoining telegraph station and rail schedule as a timepiece; however, each railroad line used its own time and thus was not dependable. Meanwhile, in more remote regions, people synchronized time with either local church bells or personal watches.58
In line with the political goals of imposing order over the nation, Gould's early work at the AMS centered on standardizing time and space in Argentina through the use of the era's advanced technology: telegraph and railroad.59 From the observatory in Córdoba, demarcated as the longitudinal and time center of Argentina, Gould began this standardization process by sending a telegram to volunteers in provincial capitals at noon. They then returned a message indicating the location of the sun in relation to noon and the local time to record the difference. Gould also sent workers to ride the railroads with watches set to the master clock in the observatory. The worker sent a telegraph from each station indicating the local station's time and the clocks they carried.60 Thus, like many other astronomical institutions throughout the globe, the AMS and the observatory were fundamental to mapping and standardizing time in Argentina (fig. 2).61
With a better indication of time, Gould established a standard form for volunteers to record their observations at specific times and in the metric system. The template combined the forms used by the Smithsonian Institution, Paris's Department of Meteorological Observation, and local meteorology departments in Prussia and Saxony. As a result, the AMS chose the hours of 7 a.m., 9 a.m., and 2 p.m. for volunteers to complete readings. In addition, it requested volunteers to calculate the averages of all barometer and thermometer readings for every ten days as well as monthly (figs. 3 and 4).
Last, Gould looked for suitable volunteers. Initially, the institution relied on science faculty at the national colleges that operated in most provincial capitals, as they provided the ideal convergence of location and possible natural interest and familiarity with scientific instruments. Yet this confined all observation sites to urban centers and left large portions of the nation unobserved. In the following decades Gould and his successor Walter G. Davis expanded the network to private citizens, soldiers working in the frontier, and railroad station managers who had direct access to the national telegraph system. However, the AMS had to acquire meteorological instruments and then teach the new volunteers how to conduct weather observations.
Teaching to Observe: The Distribution of Training and Instruments
The AMS benefited from developments in meteorological instruments in the mid-nineteenth century that made them more reliable, accurate, and affordable.62 Gould contacted firms in Germany, Switzerland, France, and the United States to provide samples and price lists, but few manufacturers responded. Those that responded did send samples to Córdoba, but they arrived damaged.63 After much effort, Gould settled on the English firm of Negretti and Zambra as the primary supplier because the instruments were affordable, arrived quickly, and were packed properly to avoid damage. Once in Argentina, Gould further modified the instruments to better protect them during their shipment throughout Argentina, which often took place via train and then mules in more distant areas. In addition, Gould ordered aneroid barometers from Goldschmid of Switzerland for volunteers to compare the readings with the mercury-based barometers of Negretti and Zambra.64
In 1872 Gould published a pamphlet, Instructions to Establish a System of Meteorological Observations in the Argentine Republic, to educate volunteers on how to set up and read their provided tools: a barometer, a dry thermometer, a wet-bulb thermometer, a rain gauge, and instructions to build a wind vane.65 Even though Gould believed the pamphlet clarified the process of making daily observations as quick and straightforward, his instructions were not fully clear, and they assumed a uniformity across Argentina. Gould's pamphlet included instructions but lacked detailed explanations for the volunteers. Moreover, he did not provide a reasoning for the peculiarities of setting up the equipment, which could have possibly made volunteers more invested in the process or better equipped to problem solve.66 For instance, he required volunteers to place the two thermometers in roofed housing that faced south. Inside, the thermometers needed to be perched three meters aboveground, with fifteen centimeters between them, each thirty centimeters from any wall, and the roof had to be no closer than fifty centimeters from the thermometer. This required volunteers to build a structure roughly 3.5 meters high and half a square meter in volume.67 To measure the atmospheric pressure, volunteers had to place the barometer near a window in a temperature-stable room, and in a position where the wind or sun did not touch the instrument. If this was not possible, Gould recommended that volunteers place the barometer in a cabinet but did not indicate whether the cabinet had to be near a window, or why they needed to follow these exact methods.
In the absence of clarity, the AMS delegated many aspects of the setup and daily recordings to the volunteers. It is unclear if the institution provided volunteers with tools and supplies to properly measure the housings, or indicated the preferred building materials. Indeed, this fact implies a disconnect between the institution and local conditions, since Gould's instructions assumed all areas of Argentina used the metric system and had ready access to the same supplies. Some provinces used methods of measurement that stemmed from the colonial period or were prominent in local industries. For instance, people in the sugar-producing province of Tucumán used a league, vara (rod), pie (foot), pulgada (inch), and cuadra (a block) to measure distance, with other formats for weight and volume like the arroba used to weigh sugar.68 Moreover, Argentina's regions used different building materials for housing, such as clay, wood, and mud for walls, and hay, reeds, sugarcane, and clay tiles for roofing. Finally, the AMS did not provide any monetary assistance for extra supplies needed to set up the instruments. Fortunately, the AMS and Gould benefited from the extensive presence of do-it-yourself reference works in nineteenth-century Argentina that may have compensated for Gould's poor direction and further illustrate the astronomer's dependence on the volunteers.69 Thus Argentines were in a position to make the best of a technical situation with little assistance, making do with what they had readily available.
The pamphlet reveals a duality of specificity and imprecision. On completing their readings, volunteers were directed to note the make, model, and location of all their instruments on the opening page of each booklet. Once the materials arrived in Córdoba, the staff calculated the data and then adjusted for known discrepancies in certain models and weather events that took place in the volunteer's region based on materials from other nearby volunteers or noted in newspapers. For example, Jorge Pilcher, who observed near the AMS's offices at the San Jorge ranch in northern Córdoba, placed the barometer .90 meters above the ground. Since the AMS knew the elevation of the ranch—over 400 meters higher than the observatory—the staff adjusted all of Pilcher's barometric measurements by .28 millimeters in the final report.70 While the amount is negligible, Gould and his staff considered it important enough to note, since it likely demonstrated to government officials their push for exactness.
On the other hand, the reports included numerous examples of compromised or lost data, revealing the reality of relying on volunteers. Observers, for example, completed the initial data averages before AMS staff completed their own set of averages from the provided material, presenting more opportunities for miscalculation. Gould also requested volunteers to complete the difficult task of calibrating complex instruments like a barometer. Not only was this virtually impossible for most instruments, but it also increased the possibility for volunteers to damage the instruments. For instance, observers had to calibrate the dry thermometer to 0°C/32°F by placing it in snow or ice once a year. If the temperature did not drop to zero, the AMS cautioned the thermometer was likely broken.71 Nonetheless, this task was not straightforward, as snow exists in various forms that are not always near freezing. It can fall above or below zero Celsius and stay on the ground at temperatures up to 5°C/41°F, depending on general weather conditions and the level of exposure to sunlight.72 Moreover, Gould demonstrated his lack of familiarity with his new home country and assumed volunteers had access to snow or ice once a year. This was impossible for many areas of Argentina, such as the subtropical humid regions of the north, northwest, and northeast. In addition, Gould did not instruct volunteers how to calibrate in the absence of snow, thus calling into question the importance of calibration.
Gaps in knowledge also stemmed from the poor distribution of materials and loss of interest from the volunteers. In the early years of the AMS, most diarists did not receive the standard set of instruments. Fidel Castro, a local politician in Catamarca, received only the instructional pamphlet and no devices. He used the instructions to build a wind vane with found materials, but he volunteered only from September to November 1876.73 Meanwhile, the AMS provided G. Frey of Entre Rios with just the two standard thermometers. There is no indication whether he received the full set later. Some volunteers purchased their own equipment. In 1876 the head of the meteorological station of Villa Argentina, La Rioja, acquired instruments to measure solar radiation but did not provide any further details on how he acquired the instruments or whether he shared the data with Córdoba.74
The AMS witnessed exponential growth under Gould's successor, his nephew and a civil engineer, Walter G. Davis (1885–1915).75 In 1885 Gould named Davis as the successor of the AMS, which then split from the observatory into its own institution.76 Davis worked through his social network of foreigners living in Argentina to meet with the managing board of the British-owned Great Southern Railway (GSR), one of the largest rail companies in Argentina at the time, to propose that railway station managers monitor rain gauges to help the AMS compile graphs for national rainfall totals from the regions they covered. Initially, GSR executives rejected the request, since they considered meteorology a “nonsensical fad,” but consented once Davis agreed to pay for the installation of the gauges and limit reports to once a month.77 Many station managers objected to the extra uncompensated work. Station staff expressed their frustration by reporting to the AMS that the rain gauges were broken. The AMS's engineers traveled to check on the equipment only to discover that rail employees used the gauges as shooting targets during their downtime.78 In addition, the lukewarm reception to observing extended to many volunteers, who skipped days to weeks at a time, or simply stopped without notice.
The AMS focused on increasing the number of recorders throughout Argentina to average out gaps in the datasets. The AMS's expansion took place within and beyond Argentina's modern borders. It distributed materials to Paraguayans, Bolivians, Uruguayans, and Chileans who lived on their respective borders with Argentina. Moreover, the AMS supplied settlers and government officials who ventured into the territories that composed Patagonia and the Chaco, and by the early 1900s to Antarctica. In Patagonia, in particular, state leaders utilized weather observations and preliminary climate data to advocate for increased settlement and colonization, arguing that some areas could nurture agriculture and pastoral industries to contribute to Argentina's export-oriented economy.
Observing the Frontiers: Chubut and Western Patagonia
The AMS's expansion of weather observers paralleled the extension of Argentina's internal and international borders. Colonel Luis Jorge Fontana, the first governor of the northern Patagonian territory of Chubut, became an especially prominent advocate for colonization of the territory as a strategy to substantiate Argentina's claims over the area. Fontana sought, in particular, to counter historical narratives of Chubut as a supposed arid wasteland, and his reports of endless possibilities found eager audiences in Buenos Aires.
Throughout the nineteenth century, Chile and Argentina contested Patagonia.79 Beginning in the 1860s, each government initiated a militarized approach to occupy Patagonia and populate “the great unknown” through forcibly removing Indigenous communities to open the land to foreign settlers and companies. Yet the Argentine government's presence in the areas farthest from Buenos Aires remained tenuous for much of the nineteenth century. In Patagonia, the state financed an assortment of soldiers, judges, police, explorers, scientists, and immigrant communities to explore, map, and settle to establish a foothold in the region.80 Officials in Buenos Aires remained anxious, however, over the allegiances of settlers in Patagonia. As a result, the state relied on various institutions as well as a coterie of soldiers, engineers, and scientists, such as Fontana and the AMS, to represent Buenos Aires's interests.81 Over the years, numerous actors journeyed to Patagonia and completed reports that promised to develop northern Patagonia via technology and infrastructure, such as dams, canals, and reservoirs to irrigate the open arid land, as symbols of progress and integration.82 I argue in this section that observing, recording, and processing Patagonia's environment and weather allowed the Argentine state to better understand the region and was an important component of state building in the northern Patagonian frontier.
In 1865 the Argentine government approved the Welsh settlement of Y Wladfa on the Atlantic coast of Chubut. Y Wladfa was an agricultural settlement established on a natural depression along the Chubut River near the modern towns of Puerto Madryn and Trelew. Unfortunately for the Welsh, the river's minimal water in the dry season did not provide enough to irrigate crops. As a result, farming failed during the early years, and the Welsh relied on the goodwill of the Tehuelche people to survive. Farmers learned quickly that rainfall was not a dependable source of water in the region, as the Chubut River fluctuated rhythmically from a flood-inducing abundance to a mere trickle. They concluded that monitoring river levels could allow them to pool the river water into built reservoirs during the wet season and later irrigate in the dry season to give life to the land.83 By the 1880s irrigation allowed Chubutan farmers to grow high-quality barletta wheat for export to Buenos Aires, which locals prized for its superior quality. The age of Patagonian wheat was short-lived, however, owing to a combination of economic and environmental changes. The Baring Crisis of 1889–90 caused Argentine export prices and revenues to drop to the extent that Patagonian farmers could not compete against other Argentine wheat-producing regions. Moreover, many Patagonian farmers shifted toward ranching, which came to dominate the territory. Last, travelers to the region in the 1890s noted that a massive flood destroyed many of the irrigation ditches constructed to help grow wheat.84
In 1884 the Argentine state declared Chubut a national territory under direct federal jurisdiction via a governor with little governmental oversight or local representation. That same year, the government passed the Homestead Law, which transferred public lands to private hands, to incentivize the colonization and exploration of Chubut, an area officials considered “important but unknown.”85 Fontana served as Chubut's first territorial governor. Fontana had experience in extending the state's reach into Indigenous lands. In the 1870s he took part in the military's campaign into the Gran Chaco region in the northeast. By 1879 Fontana founded the settlement of Formosa on the Paraguayan River in the most northeastern corner of the eventual national border.86 While in Formosa, Fontana worked as a volunteer for the AMS and continued the practice in Chubut.87
Once in Chubut, Fontana opened contacts with Welsh settlers and local Tehuelche traders who brought materials from the western lands along the Andes Mountains to the settlements on the coast. In their interactions, the Tehuelche described the western regions of Chubut as a land of “temperate and healthy climate, [that] contained rivers that ran in all directions and held an abundant number of fruit-bearing trees,” unlike the drab landscape of the eastern edges of the territory.88 Moreover, Fontana discovered that the Welsh remained near the original settlements and hesitated to expand, even as the number of Welsh immigrants grew. Those that did move traveled south toward the twin lakes of Musters and Colhué Huapí near the Sarmiento colony of Afrikaners.89 Thus large swaths of the northern, western, and central areas of the territory remained unfamiliar at the time.
In 1885 Governor Fontana took part in a small expedition comprising Welsh and Tehuelche guides who traveled west along the Chubut River to the foot of the Andes mountains. Fontana intended to acquaint himself with the territory and report back to Buenos Aires on the viability of northern Patagonia for large-scale agricultural development and the construction of railroads and hydrological projects. Fontana reported that Chubut was a world of stark contrasts. He marveled at how quickly the land changed from the arid landscape of the east to fertile green pastures in the west, joking that his mares had no shortage of food and even gained weight in western Chubut. More importantly, the trip confirmed his belief that Chubut was ideal for government occupation and settlement. Though he did not have space for instruments to gather complete weather data, as he had hoped, he instead brought basic surveying instruments and the few maps that existed for Chubut. Consulting his notes, conversations with guides, and personal visual observations, he declared the sixty-eight-degree western meridian as the climatological and environmental dividing line of the territory.90 He understood the limitations of his brief observations, stressing in his report the need for increased investment in exploration to better understand the territory's geographic and environmental transition from the east to the west. Fontana believed the success of future settlers rested on their understanding of the territory's climate, and he argued that meteorology, unlike other disciplines, could best describe Chubut and help the state dominate “a fierce land.”91
Unlike the west, weather observations existed for eastern Chubut. From 1880 to 1889 the Welsh colony's founder, Richard Jones Berwyn, served as an AMS recorder in eastern Chubut.92 By 1889 the AMS processed Berwyn's observations and showcased them in that year's report. The AMS detected patterns in the data they believed demonstrated the possibility of agriculture in the region (whether scientifically sound or not) and drew environmental connections with the rest of Argentina. To begin with, they noted that eastern Chubut resembled most of the other regions of Argentina in receiving insufficient rainfall. The region's rivers received their waters from spring snowmelt originating from the Andes. As a result, like most of Argentina, the settled regions of Patagonia mandated irrigation projects, which locals agreed to. The data also produced other important conclusions. When combined with data from other areas of Argentina, recordings in western Chubut revealed that the Andean side of Patagonia was one of only two regions in the nation to have a surplus of rainfall. Moreover, the AMS concluded that western Patagonia received an increased amount of rain every ten years that caused a pattern of flooding, thereby furthering the cause of officials and farmers to find a means to pool the water in periods of abundance.93 This observation had a significant impact on how the state, its institutions, and its settlers established a presence in Patagonia.
The findings led to an expansion in the scope and composition of the AMS. Walter Davis concluded that the key to understanding Patagonia was to expand the coverage and number of observers to complete daily recordings and monitor river levels to predict abundant and lean years, which would assist the state in planning dams and reservoir projects.94 By the turn of the century, the AMS's work in northern Patagonia became one piece of a larger process of hydrological development led by the Ministry of Public Works (MPW), which was established in 1898 to tackle various “transcendental [resource] problems” present in the nation. In particular, technocrats proposed a variety of hydrological projects that would capitalize on Patagonia's natural resources and integrate the territories into the nation.95 For its part, the AMS created a hydrometric department dedicated to measuring the levels of all major rivers in Argentina in the hopes of discovering the seasonal water cycle. The MPW's own Commission for the Study of Hydrology (1911–13) worked with the AMS and echoed the Meteorological Service's stance that the region needed large-scale hydrological infrastructure to adequately irrigate the increased number of agricultural colonies and settlements that appeared along the region's rivers in the territories of Río Negro, Neuquén, and, to a far lesser extent, Chubut, through a network of dams, reservoirs, and canals.
The AMS had its critics, however, especially as state and provincial governments raced to exploit the resources of Patagonia. In the early 1900s, the state completed numerous surveying projects to determine irrigation allowances for the lands along the rivers of Patagonia. In the Río Negro Territory, which holds the Negro and Colorado Rivers, problems quickly appeared over the state's attempts to standardize irrigation allowances across the region. According to Carlos Wauters, a prominent and opinionated civil engineer who participated in hydrological projects throughout western and northwestern Argentina, the Argentine state's engineers established mandates that created “complete anarchy” regarding water rights.96 In the case of the Río Negro, Wauters believed the state diverted the majority of the river to the Río Negro Valley, much to the detriment of farmers in the far southern areas of the province of Buenos Aires that bordered the territory.97
Beginning in 1906, Wauters traveled along the Río Negro under the employment of Buenos Aires's provincial government to assess conditions. In the concluding report, Wauters spent considerable time criticizing the work of the state's engineers, much of which was carried out by César Cipolletti. Wauters argued that the irrigation allowances were based on flawed data from Cipolletti and the AMS, and he criticized the state for hiring an engineer who had overseen projects that “[came] to the ground.”98 Between 1902 and 1903, the AMS erected eighteen river gauges along the rivers and lakes of northern Patagonia. Like the meteorological observations, the AMS relied on volunteers who noted water height once a day, although volunteers routinely skipped some gauges, as they were difficult to access. The AMS then shared this information alongside the data from nearby meteorological observations with local sheriffs and post offices in the Negro and Colorado Valleys, with the hope of potentially establishing a flood-warning service.99 Wauters considered the AMS unsuited for the job of assisting with engineering projects, arguing that its data on rivers levels was of little value and its overall meteorological instructions a “fable.”100 According to Wauters, the AMS placed the river gauges so poorly that he found many abandoned in the river banks. He further noted that many gauges contained damaged scales that volunteers continued to use, resulting in flawed measurements that the AMS then utilized to report water levels and flooding cycles as definitive, which the state accepted wholesale.101
Other observers in the region also called into question the AMS's data. Collectively, their opinions illustrate that the AMS was motivated more by expansion than by scientific pursuits. For one, the AMS excluded local embodied knowledge on the area's climate rhythms, never mentioning the Tehuelche people or local traders in reports pertaining to Patagonia. Instead, the AMS's work on Chubut follows the Welsh settlers' narrative of initially being frustrated but eventually besting the land.102 Moreover, the Tehuelche people contradicted the AMS's conclusions. Locals shared that the rivers actually flooded every thirty years throughout the territory, not ten. Albert E. Shaw, a British lawyer and traveler who toured across southern Chubut, echoed the Tehuelche people's point that flooding originated from Musters and Colhué Huapí Lakes in southern Chubut, and less from spring snowmelt from the Andes. The strong westerly winds that rushed down the Andes Mountains and across the Chubutan Valley formed dunes on the eastern edges of the lakes. Every thirty years, the dunes ruptured and released the bounty of the lakes downstream.103 Finally, the AMS and other observers overlooked the numerous impediments to agriculture in Patagonia. In relation to wheat, national authorities and observers noted that Chubut's naturally stable, cooler climate; prime soil; and low humidity produced better quality wheat at higher yields than most other regions of Argentina. But Chubut lacked the infrastructure to transport its small harvest to market, experienced strong winds and other weather phenomena that damaged growing wheat stalks, faced difficulties in attracting labor willing to travel and live in the desolate land, and heavily relied on irrigation for farming.104 Yet, according to Shaw, the Argentine state opposed any assessments that countered views of Patagonia as bountiful and industrious, even while opinion on the ground differed greatly.105 Thus the work of the AMS and its volunteers in Patagonia is best seen as being in service of the state's mission of settler colonialism.
Much changed for global and Argentine meteorology in the twentieth century. By the 1950s meteorology had evolved into a scientific field with schools of thought, numerous theories, and improved methodologies. Argentine scientists, for instance, undertook readings of higher levels of the atmosphere, extended their coverage into Antarctic and maritime readings, increased their research into agrometeorology, and collaborated with international colleagues. Their methodologies were a far cry from the state of weather observation even forty years before. In 1951, for instance, Argentine meteorologists founded the academic journal Meteoros. The opening volume featured rigorous research, including the work of Argentine climatologists J. J. Burgos and A. L. Vidal that divided Argentina according to the Thornthwaite System, as well as other articles on the extreme oscillation of rainfall in Argentina and the influence of winter and spring temperatures on peach groves.106 Indeed, at the time of publication, Burgos served as professor of climatology and agricultural phenology at the University of La Plata, while his coauthor was chief of the Agrometeorology Division in the AMS. The first issue of Meteoros underscored the field's use of weather as a tool to expand the state's presence via the development of agriculture, stating, “The labor of the National Meteorological Service is tied to the development of the social and moral economy of the nation. In effect, it helps to conserve and produce goods, and instill confidence in its inhabitants by ensuring their safety and well-being.”107
This article has focused on the early years of the AMS, placing its development within a larger discussion of the sciences and state building. Like other national weather services founded at the time, the AMS emphasized enrolling enthusiastic volunteer observers, providing them with meteorological instruments, and then seeking to extrapolate possible conclusions from the collected data. The state valued the AMS's work and its ability to provide environmental descriptions and build linkages with people throughout Argentina, extending past national borders into eventual Argentine territories, especially through agriculture and infrastructure. As the AMS expanded by the opening of the twentieth century, it not only provided details on Argentina's climate through daily national weather maps; it also worked with other bourgeoning national ministries such as the Ministry of Public Works. In Patagonia, for instance, the AMS and the MPW planned reservoirs and dams to help establish agricultural colonies and rail lines along the Patagonian rivers. Thus the AMS fits within the broader Latin American literature on the role of mapping, the field of geography, and other sciences in the nation-state building process. Through processing data and describing the land and environment in legible formats, the AMS fueled the expansion of national borders.108 In short, it existed in service of the state.
Research for this article was conducted at the Linda Hall Library (Kansas City, MO) during a residential fellowship funded by the Linda Hall Library Foundation. I want to thank Ben Gross, the entire staff of the Linda Hall, and the other fellows at the library for their collegiality and insight. I delivered a version of this article at the 2020 American Historical Association Conference. I want to thank María de los Ángeles Picone for her valuable feedback as our panel's commentator, and for sharing her knowledge on Patagonia. I would like to thank Lisa Munro and Rocío Gomez for reading drafts of this article and providing feedback. Thank you as well to my colleagues in UNLV's history department who attended and read the revised paper at a faculty seminar. Last, thanks to the journal's editorial staff and to the anonymous reviewers for their recommendations and guidance.
The description of the atmosphere as an ocean of air comes from Evangelista Torricelli (1644). Noted in Fleming, Inventing Atmospheric Science, 5.
Williamson, “Building a Long-Time Series.” Williamson's study focuses on observations completed in Singapore and Malaysia between the late 1700s and early 1990s. Williamson offers one example of historical weather observations from 1845 to 1869, which consisted primarily of rainfall measurements. The majority of observers for the period were associated with agriculture. Thus their goal was to establish long-term records to help safeguard their crops in the absence of government investment in weather observation (796).
The use of the term frontier for Patagonia and the Gran Chaco is a misnomer and a remnant of the Spanish colonial process that divided the region between areas of Spanish control and Indigenous control; by the nineteenth century, liberal elites were denoting these areas as “civilized” and “barbaric,” respectively. As Carolyne R. Larson notes, the use of the term frontier, or desierto (desert) in Spanish, fueled state efforts to “undermin[e] indigenous communities' claims to cultural recognition and respect, land rights, and community autonomy,” and endures to this day. Larson, Conquest of the Desert, 4. The idea of legibility comes from Scott, Seeing like a State. For a discussion of knowledge in the building of early Latin American states, see Miller, Republics of Knowledge.
In 1861 the province of Buenos Aires under the command of eventual Argentine president Bartolomé Mitre defeated the Argentine Confederation in the Battle of Pavón. Beyond the battle, the confederation faced severe economic difficulties that Mitre exploited in the provinces. Rock, Argentina, 122–23.
Arias Bucciarelli and Jensen, “La historiografía de los territorios nacionales”; Favaro and Iuorno, “Un país a dos velocidades”; Moroni, “La incorporación de los territorios nacionales”; Leoni, “La política en los territorios nacionales argentinos.”
Joseph and Nugent, Everyday Forms of State Formation; Dimas, Poisoned Eden. The Latin American literature on state formation and building operates under the binary of a strong versus weak state. For nineteenth-century Argentina, works emphasize a strong centralized state in Buenos Aires. However, more studies, including my work listed above, assess the state as more of a pragmatic institution dependent on local actors to build and nurture the institutions and linkages fundamental to state building. In short, it was both a top-down and bottom-up process. The edited volumes of Bragoni and Míguez, Un nuevo orden político, and Alonso and Bragoni, El sistema federal Argentino, offer numerous studies on a more pragmatic approach to state building. Novak, “Myth of the ‘Weak’ American State,” is especially influential in working past strong and weak as categories of study. On the role of overlooked actors, see Kerr, Sex, Skulls, and Citizens; Cushman, “Humboldtian Science”; Miller, Republics of Knowledge.
For an overview of the sociocultural place of climate, see Fleming and Jankovic, “Revisiting Klima”; and Golinski, British Weather. For the place of weather in expanding nation-states, see McCook, “Global Currents”; Zaiki and Tsukahara, “Meteorology”; Mahony and Calioti, “Relocating Meteorology”; Raj, Relocating Modern Science; del Rosario Prieto and Rojas, “Climate History in Latin America.” For the growing body on the history of meteorology in Latin America, see Carey, “Climate, Medicine”; Cushman, “Enclave Vision”; Fernández Prieto, “Islands of Knowledge”; Fitzgerald et al., “Roundtable.”
For readers unfamiliar with Patagonia, the region consists of the Argentine provinces and former territories of Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz, and Tierra del Fuego.
Gould's interest in the southern hemisphere began as a member of James M. Gilliss's US Naval astronomical expedition of the southern hemisphere from 1849 to 1852. Comstock, “Benjamin Apthorp Gould”; Hodge, “Benjamin Apthorp Gould.”
Benjamin A. Gould to Domingo Sarmiento, October 14, 1865, in Sarmiento, Obras de D. F. Sarmiento, 180. By the 1860s an observatory existed in neighboring Chile. The US astronomer James Gilliss, who founded the US Naval Observatory, led expeditions in Chile and Peru throughout the 1840s and 1850s. In Chile, Gilliss helped jumpstart a national astronomy program that received support from the local government, and he built linkages between the University of Chile and the Smithsonian Institution. Silva, Astronomy, 4–6.
For instance, the English naturalist Charles Darwin, French naturalist Alcide D'Orbigny, German naturalist Hermann Burmeister, and French botanist Aimé Bonpland, who was Alexander von Humboldt's partner in Latin America, had all visited Argentina. Bonpland and Burmeister even settled there. Novoa and Levine, From Man to Ape; Rock, British in Argentina, 90–92.
Sarmiento, Discursos populares, 286. By 1878 Sarmiento reported to Congress that the hopes of educating and employing had failed, stating that “no one has wanted to associate with the Astronomical Observatory. They will soon need two or three employees to succeed Mr. Gould, who will soon leave.” Sarmiento, Obras de D. F. Sarmiento, vol. 20, July 27, 1878, 278.
Novoa and Levine, From Man to Ape, 2, 4–6. Novoa and Levine use the term peripherality to define this feeling.
Sarlo, Technical Imagination, 3. Sarlo presents the term technographical to discuss the ways Argentine writers, social critics, public officials, and the general public spoke of a nation on the cusp of a new and vibrant future, in which social and economic problems could be solved through innovative developments (7–8). Indeed, the idea of a modern and developed future entranced turn-of-the-century Argentine society. Historians have explored these topics from the perspective of public health, urban planning, and consumerism to name a few. See Armus, Ailing City; and Elena, Dignifying Argentina.
Between 1865 and 1870, Argentina took part in the Paraguayan War. The conflict severely strained the national economy; thus, the state froze the plan.
Reception of Dr. Benjamin A. Gould, 17–18; and Hodge, “Benjamin Apthorp Gould,” 159–61. It took two years for workers to complete the observatory. However, the planners did not take into consideration the weight of the astronomical equipment, which caused the floor to sink, requiring the staff to continually adjust the instruments.
The American Meteorological Society defines a pampero as a strong cold south or southwest wind that travels over the pampas of Argentina and Uruguay. It is the South American counterpart of a norther. It has two varieties: the pampero seco, which comes with no rain, and the pampero sucio, which can cause dust storms. In most cases, pamperos come with squalls, thunderstorms, and a drop in temperature. “Pampero—American Meteorological Society Glossary,” glossary.ametsoc.org/wiki/Pampero (accessed August 13, 2020).
Originally in Haller, Outcasts, 23. Quoted from Gould, Investigations in the Military, 146, 384–97.
Anales de la oficina de meteorológica (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de Pablo Coni, 1878), vols. 1 and 2, 4, 8–10 (hereafter AOM). Benjamin Gould wrote volumes 1 to 4, and Walter Davis volumes 4 to 17.
AOM, vol. 4, 20. For agricultural colonies in Sante Fe and Entre Rios, see Djenderedjian, “La colonización agrícola.”
AOM, vol. 1, 4.
Rieznik and Comerci, “Cielos australes.” In the sources I consulted I did not find any direct mention of disputes between the AMS and the state. However, this does not imply that institutions, the sciences, and the state had a cordial relationship. Quite the opposite, actually. I conclude that Gould's separation from the turbulent politics of Argentina stemmed from the fact that he spent large portions of his tenure away from Argentina owing to either professional responsibilities or unfortunate personal events. First, an assistant died when struck by lightning. In 1874 two of Gould's daughters drowned during a birthday outing to the Primero River in Córdoba. Later in 1883 Gould's wife, Mary Apthorp Quincy, died. George Comstock's memoir of Gould notes the enduring impact all these deaths had on the astronomer.
AOM, vol. 1, 2.
Larson, “Argentina Man,” 45
For the transition of meteorology from diarists to professionals in the United States, see Fleming, Meteorology in America. Amateur weather recording was prevalent in colonial Latin America. The outbreak of conflict against the Iberian empires caused the derailment of these projects. See Farrona et al., “Meteorological Observations.”
AOM, vol. 1, 34–56.
Melanie Kiechle argues that nineteenth-century people used senses as a fundamental way to process their world, especially in areas like health. Kiechle, Smell Detectives.
AOM, vol. 1, 34.
Golinski, British Weather, chap. 4.
AOM, vol. 1, 6; Minniti and Paolantonio, Córdoba estelar, 245–70.
Rieznik, “Velocidad telegráfica.” In 1870 Sarmiento inaugurated a national telegraph system. By 1874 it connected Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, Chile, to the west, Jujuy to the northwest, and Corrientes to the northeast. Similar to the railroad, Córdoba was the central terminal for the lines running west and northwest.
Bartky, “Adoption of Standard Time.” Bartky notes that for the United States the railroad did not play a pivotal role in establishing a standard time, since most of the calls for a standardized time came from astronomers who provided time for the railroads, such as the Allegheny Observatory and US Naval Observatory.
AOM, vol. 2, 10.
AOM, vol. 2, 10.
Gould, Instrucciones. In 1875 Gould wrote a second edition. Each was in Spanish and contained no pictures, only words.
In non-metric, that is about eleven-and-a-half feet high and four-and-a-half square feet in volume.
Miller, Republics of Knowledge, 64. Miller points out numerous facts that help contextualize this point. First, Argentine booksellers filled their catalogs with popular materials like textbooks, encyclopedias, and almanacs because they sold well. Second, an overview of catalogs shows that a large portion of materials originated from Argentine publishers, and to a sizeable extent in Latin America, thus further demonstrating the existence of a market (62–70).
AOM, vol. 11, 17.
National Snow and Ice Data Center, “How Does Snow Form” and “Types of Snow,” nsidc.org/cryosphere/snow/science/formation.html and nsidc.org/cryosphere/snow/science/types.html (accessed January 13, 2020).
AOM, vol. 2, 1–2.
La Rioja is a western province that borders the Andean mountain range. Historically and to this day, it is one of the poorest provinces.
Prior to the AMS, Davis spent six years working railroad construction in Vermont.
Walter Gould Davis: Record and Reminiscence of the Scientist and the Man (Boston: Privately printed, 1920). This document is a combination of two obituaries, paginated separately, one written by Thomas G. Rector, director of the Córdoba Section of the AMS, and the other by Robert DeCourcy Ward, professor of climatology, Harvard University. Separate page numbers in each.
Walter Gould Davis, Rector, 10.
Walter Gould Davis, Rector, 10.
Argentina Ministry of Public Works CEH, Study of the Elements of Development, vi–vii. The CEH consisted of a US-Swiss-Kiwi-Argentine team of geologists, topographers, geographers, and engineers. The project received significant pushback in the Argentine congress. Pedro Navarro Floria notes in his study on the commission (1911–14) that provincial senators opposed the state's increased investment in the territories as it lessened the national share of financing for the provinces as well as for the foreign companies building many of Argentina's infrastructure. Navarro Floria, “La comisión del paralelo 41o.”
For the early history of the Welsh community and the pivotal role the Tehuelche people played in saving it, see Williams, “Welsh Settlers.”
Rock, Argentina, 158. A. G. Ford shows that Argentine wheat and corn exports fell between 1894 and 1897 and did not reach pre-collapse levels until 1899 (Ford, “Argentina”). Arthur E. Shaw, who traveled to Patagonia in the 1890s for sport and to join a railway surveying team, noted it was common knowledge in Patagonia that agriculture was impossible south of Bahia Blanca (Buenos Aires) without irrigation (Shaw, Forty Years, 180).
In 1884 the Argentine state split Formosa from the Gran Chaco territory. Because of its location on the Paraguay River, the city had important defense and trade prospects.
AOM, vol. 7, 17–18.
The Sarmiento colony was another Welsh establishment. It is also known for receiving Afrikaner/Boer settlers who arrived following the Second Boer War and also because of increased drought conditions in South Africa. For the Boers in Chubut, see Du Toit, Colonia Boer; and Du Toit, “Immigration and Ethnicity.”
In addition to Berwyn, the AMS worked with the British reverend Thomas Bridges who completed readings in Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland/Malvina Islands during his Anglican missions.
AOM, vol. 7, 132.
Oficina Meteorológica and Lange, Río Negro y sus afluentes. The discovery of abundant water in Patagonia caused a rush of government investment in the region. In 1904 the AMS established its Hydrometric Department (HD). The new division sent teams of meteorologists, settlers, and engineers to construct tools to measure the changes in a river's height and flow. The HD spent considerable resources measuring the numerous lakes surrounding Nahuel Huapi in western Patagonia, which feeds the Negro, Neuquén, Limay, and Colorado Rivers. The data was used to help plan irrigation projects to supply state agricultural settlements along the rivers.
Wauters, Rio Negro, 11. Beyond professional differences in Patagonia, Wauters and Cipolletti also competed for work in the province of Tucumán to help irrigate the sugarcane fields and provide the provincial capital of San Miguel with potable water.
AOM, vol. 7, 129–32.
Shaw, Forty Years, 180. Most of Patagonia exists in the area meteorologists refer to as the “roaring forties,” between forty and fifty degrees south of the equator. It is known for strong winds that become stronger farther south. In contrast to the AMS's points, most of Patagonia's winds come from the west, since at around forty degrees the elevation of the Andes Mountains falls. For more on the Patagonian westerly winds, see Barros et al., “Climate Change in Argentina.”
Bicknell, Wheat Production, 48–50; and Shaw, Forty Years, 169–70. Bicknell based his analysis on wheat farming in Chubut through firsthand observation and discussions with officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, the AMS, and Carlos Lix Klett, president of the Board of Trade of Buenos Aires.
Burgos and Vidal, “Climates of the Argentine Republic.” Charles Warren Thornthwaite proposed dividing climatological regions by vegetation. For Thornthwaite, vegetation offered a clearer indication because it correlated more directly to precipitation and the effectiveness in the precipitation toward the development of a moisture index.
“Exposición de motivos,” Meteoros 1, no. 1 (1951): 2. By 1951 the AMS changed its name to the National Meteorological Service.