Virtually every segment of the scholarly community concerned with Latin America will find something of (methodological or philosophical) interest in this monograph, but the work’s principal pitch is to geographers, ecologists, planners and other practitioners of the applied sciences.
On prima facie evidence, the volume and its companion folder of eight large map plates come across as a highly quantitative technical microstudy. More than forty percent of its contents consist of statistical tables, flowcharts, models, maps, diagrams and other illustrations; and except for parts of the first and the last of its seven chapters, the entire study deals with a tiny (407 sq. kms.) piece of rural real estate lying between the Jugua and Bao rivers in the Dominican Republic. On closer consideration, however, the reader senses that the problem focus and research methods carry implications far broader than the small study area. The ecological problems and challenges posed by the Jagua-Bao region emerge as a case study of the entire Dominican Republic, and by inference, the Dominican experience becomes a microcosm of much of Latin American and other developing areas.
The authors’ opening gambit is to tie their small study area to the total developmental challenge faced by the Dominican Republic, and to provide a broad-gauged rationale for their research. Efforts by the Dominican Republic and other Latin American countries to achieve development and modernization frequently entail heavy investment in hydroelectric plants, dams, reservoirs, irrigation systems and related facilities. The planning of such projects is seldom preceded by detailed ecological impact studies. As a result, the project regions are often beset by serious problems such as soil erosion, flooding, and siltation. If these and other problems are to be avoided, and if planners are to be given a basis for developing alternative policies for increasing returns on investments, the ecological implications of the changes that will be triggered by new projects must be assessed. Equally important, such assessments must be made quantitatively for the sake of accuracy and to facilitate computer simulation.
The authors continue with a detailed analysis of the Jugua-Bao region’s physical environment and natural resource base, ranging from geology and climate to soils and hydrology; and by an equally detailed study of the area’s “cultural background” with special emphasis on population patterns and economic activities. The methodological heart of the study is included in Chapters 4 and 6 which elaborate on energy flow modeling, power-density mapping, computer simulation of changes and other techniques. The final chapter summarizes the research findings, relates them to the general problem of ecological change associated with development and points to the validity and general applicability of the research methods used.
Like most research efforts, this exhibits both strengths and weaknesses. Antonini and his colleagues have produced a meticulously documented, superbly illustrated monograph; they effectively demonstrate the use of new techniques in dealing with problems of ecology, development and planning; and they provide evidence that interdisciplinary and intercultural cooperation in research is possible and desirable. Also to their credit is an excellent bibliography and a singular ability to bridge the gulf between the case study and the broader generalization. Less to their credit are a monograph title which, if not misleading, is not totally indicative of the contents of the piece; a tendency to overburden their presentation with maps and data; and a writing style which occasionally bogs down in the rank second growth of the English language. Given the claim to interdisciplinary effort in the preface, the editors of the monograph series should have provided more biographical data on the individual authors and a clearer indication of their respective contributions. In the balance, the monograph’s strengths decidedly outweigh its shortcomings.
Finally, this monograph is not history, but the ecological problems of development with which it is concerned have deep historical tap roots in Latin America. Similarly, its quantitative approach and models are not the standard fare of most historians, but, “such an approach builds on historical changes that are quantified in order to predict. . . .” Finally the effort merits the attention of the historian-Latin Americanist.