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Environment and History

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Environment and History

How Africans and Their Descendants Participated in Establishing Open-Range Cattle Ranching in the Americas

Andrew Sluyter

Environment and History 21 (2015): 77-101. doi: 10.3197/096734015X14183179969782

Following the introduction of cattle into the Caribbean in 1493, open-range ranching proliferated in a series of frontiers across the grasslands of the Americas through the nineteenth century, establishing novel social and environmental relations with consequences that persist to the present. While historians have recognised that Africans and Afro-descendants were involved in the establishment of those ranching frontiers, the emphasis has been on their labour rather than creative participation. Now material culture and other primary sources that complement archival documents have begun to reveal a fuller understanding of their roles. Two case studies illustrate how such complementary types of evidence reveal that African and Afro-descended herders took active roles in the processes of innovation regarding use of the lasso from horseback in North America and water-lifting technology in South America. Such contributions were critical to the expansion of open-range cattle throughout the Americas and consequent environmental transformations.

KEYWORDS: Cattle ranching, Africans, slavery, Pampas, Great Plains, New Spain, Argentina

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