Posted by: Johan Normark | February 25, 2011

Late Victorian holocausts

Yesterday I borrowed a book by Mike Davis (2001) called Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño and the Making of the Third World. The reason why I will read it is because it seems to fit my own hypothesis that the Spanish presence in the Maya area during the Colonial period led to changes that in itself created worse conditions for the Maya than those that led to the so-called Maya collapse. Hence, any attempts of trying to explain the societal effects of Prehispanic droughts by analogies drawn from the post-conquest era are highly problematic. Davis shows how droughts caused by El Niños in the 19th century synchronized with the rapid integration of “peripheral” regions into the global markets during the European colonialism. I quote a review of the book:

“Mike Davis charts the unprecedented human suffering caused by a series of extreme climactic conditions in the final quarter of the 19th century. Drought and monsoons afflicted much of China, southern Africa, Brazil, Egypt and India. The death tolls were staggering: around 12m Chinese and over 6m Indians in 1876-1878 alone. The chief culprit, according to Davis, was not the weather, but European empires, with Japan and the US. Their imposition of free-market economics on the colonial world was tantamount to a “cultural genocide”.“

There are differences between the 16th and 17th centuries in Yucatan and these later colonial politics, such as there being little to no free-market in Yucatan until the Bourbon reforms in the 18th century. However, for me the main goal is to point out the abstract machine(s) that selected the various assemblages under discussion in this book and in my study. I will make more substantial comments once I have read it (but I have to read some cave articles first).



  1. I’ll be interested to hear more about what you think of Davis, Johan. This is a pretty fascinating book.

  2. What did you think of it?

  3. This looks like an interesting book. I think that I’ll have to get a copy of it myself and check it out. What do you think of it?

  4. i haven’t read the whole thing, but what i have read is good so far. davis is a good balance to the work of jared diamond, since he pays attention to politics, power, and history. some argue that davis is too much of a journalist but i think his work is good, and he is definitely a good writer. i certainly think some anthros could take some cues from the way he presents his work, his style, etc. one of my advisors LOVES this book, so i need to finish it SOON. you know, after i finish all the other books.

  5. It looks a lot more interesting than Diamond’s Collapse but I am biased when it comes to too deterministic perspectives.

  6. Ya, I am biased about that too. Last semester we used parts of Late Victorian Holocausts to argue specifically against what Diamond sets up in Collapse. It worked pretty well overall.



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