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5 July 2023

GSSC Public Lecture: Friction in the moorlands of the Colombian Andes: A history of national parks and territorial state formation

Claudia Leal (Universidad de los Andes, Colombia & Global Faculty, University of Cologne)


In Latin America, the Great Acceleration brought unprecedented urban growth, generating a race to provide water for millions of citizens who came to view this service as a right. In parallel, national parks—developed as a form of state territoriality aimed at keeping areas in their alleged natural state—drove the formation of the nature state, those institutions and activities that fulfilled the novel responsibility of caring for nature. In Colombia, these two trends contributed to produce a new understanding of high Andean moorlands—called páramos and largely considered dreadful wastelands—as water factories that needed to be conserved. Among the countless páramos, Chingaza gained significance because, in the early 1980s, after over 15 years of infrastructure building, it became the main water source for Bogotá. For this reason, it was designated as a national park. Building it meant replacing and thus undoing peasant territoriality, which included annual fires, cattle ranching, and hunting. Once again, the environmental institute faced the formidable challenge posed by its uncertain authority, which resulted from the wide gap between the magnitude of its responsibilities and means to fulfill them. In Chingaza, it was forced to work in alliance with and in opposition to a more powerful state institution, the Bogotá Aqueduct. Chingaza National Park thus reveals one instance of the friction from which the nature state emerged, exposing the inner-workings that shape and define the constellation of institutions and norms that make up what we generically call the state.

Claudia Leal is an environmental historian of Latin America, who is currently Global Fellow at the University of Cologne. She was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, where she is full professor at the Department of History and Geography at Universidad de los Andes. She holds a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of California at Berkeley, and has been fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, in Munich. She is author of Landscapes of Freedom, Building a Postemancipation Society in the Rainforests of Western Colombia (The University of Arizona Press, 2018) and has edited several books, among them A Living Past: Environmental Histories of Modern Latin America (Berghahn Books, 2018, with John Soluri and José Augusto Pádua).She is finishing a history of Colombian national parks, while also exploring the history of animals.

5 July 2023

Room 0.012, Philisophikum,

Universität zu Köln

Universitätsstraße 41, 50931 Köln

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Noah Kahindi

Global South Studies Center (GSSC)
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E-mail: noah.kahindi@uni-koeln.de