Not long after the conquest, the City of Mexico's rise to become the crown jewel in the Spanish empire was compromised by the lakes that surrounded it. Their increasing propensity to overflow destroyed wealth and alarmed urban elites, who responded with what would become the most transformative and protracted drainage project in the early modern America—the Desagüe de Huehuetoca. Hundreds of technicians, thousands of indigenous workers, and millions of pesos were marshaled to realize a complex system of canals, tunnels, dams, floodgates, and reservoirs.
Vera S. Candiani's Dreaming of Dry Land weaves a narrative that describes what colonization was and looked like on the ground, and how it affected land, water, biota, humans, and the relationship among them, to explain the origins of our built and unbuilt landscapes. Connecting multiple historiographical traditions—history of science and technology, environmental history, social history, and Atlantic history—Candiani proposes that colonization was a class, not an ethnic or nation-based phenomenon, occurring simultaneously on both sides of an Atlantic, where state-building and empire-building were intertwined.
About the author
Born in Argentina, Vera S. Candiani is a historian of colonial Latin America who specializes in the confluence of history of technology, environmental history, and social history. She teaches at Princeton University.
"This ambitious and original study traces the history of an important engineering and environmental project in the area surrounding Mexico City during the Spanish colonial period. The author 'decolonizes' historical (mis)understandings of the Desagüe and, in the process, pushes back against narratives of progress and advancement that tend to come with looking at scientific change over time. The work succeeds admirably."
—Jordana Dym, Skidmore College
"Candiani traces in detail the engineering and construction challenges of this pharaonic project, and the human decisions, rather than the natural conditions or technical constraints, primarily accounting for the history of the Desagüe. A stellar work in the historiography of early modern science and technology, Mexico, and the micro-physics of Spanish imperial rule."
—Eric Van Young, University of California, San Diego