Amazonia by steam: Vicissitudes of a geometric revolution

Diego Villar


In the 1890s, at the height of the rubber boom, steamboats dominate the rivers of Bolivian Amazonia. The technophile discourse of the period presents the steamer as a revolution that changes everything: it allows social progress and economic development, it frees transport from the constraints of the geography, it reinforces national sovereignty and, at the same time, it overcomes interethnic conflict. Nevertheless, a careful reading of the historical sources allows us to question whether it is reasonable to reduce the rubber-transporting steamer to an icon of progress and the nationalist agenda. A historical anthropology of the steamer helps to understand what happens with the vessel itself beyond political economy, nation-building processes, and the Amazonian landscape, while also aiming to reconstruct the biographies, histories, and imaginaries of the steamboat itself and its people, and in turn an integral fluvial experience that embodies novel perceptions of alterity of the river and the Bolivian jungle.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/721923