Preface
This book is part of a personal journey that has taken me to new lands and
shown me new ways of writing history. After living and working in Sonora,
Mexico, for eighteen years—a long and fruitful commitment that enriched
my life and informed my research on the boundaries of anthropology and
history—I decided that I wanted to continue studying frontier societies and the
landscapes they created on the borders of the Iberian colonies in the Ameri-
cas.∞ I was eager to follow new paths, to explore the geography and history
of South America. Following the advice of several friends and colleagues, I
turned to the eastern lowlands of Bolivia—specifically to Chiquitos, which, like
Sonora, developed historically as a Jesuit mission province on the periphery of
the principal mining centers of Spanish America. My first acquaintance with
the Andean cordillera and the savannas and forests of Chiquitos proved as
daunting as it did exhilarating, but I soon learned that the contrasting natural
environments and divergent historical processes of Sonora and Chiquitos pro-
vided a unique comparative setting for bringing into sharper focus the mutu-
ally formative meanings of landscapes and texts.
I had spent my childhood in the temperate climates and suburban sur-
roundings of New England and the midwestern United States, where the phys-
ical environment informed my sense of beauty and provided a cyclical as-
surance of permanence through change in the seasonal contrasts of heat and
cold, blossoming and decay. I experienced nature as a necessary component of
time through these recurring rhythms of sequential seasons that flowed one on
the other from spring through winter, but I did not consider it an integral part
of history. My family background in agriculture inspired in me an attachment
to rural landscapes that was both sentimental and intellectual, a sense of
returning to visit ‘‘God’s country,’’ as my maternal great-grandmother referred
to the farmland of southern Pennsylvania. It was in the aridity and intense
sunlight of the Sonoran Desert, where ‘‘God’s country’’ assumed sharply con-
trasting hues and proportions to the landscapes of my youth, that I learned to
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