Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Mark Healey

healey-What is your academic background and what is your current position at UConn?
I have a doctorate in Latin American history from Duke University, and taught at NYU, the University of Mississippi, and the University of California, Berkeley before coming to UConn in 2011. I teach on the urban, environmental, and political history of modern Latin America. My strongest areas of interest are Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Brazil, but I have the pleasure of teaching broadly about the region for both undergraduates and graduate students. There’s a lively community of Latin Americanists here, in Humanities and Social Sciences, which has made UConn an engaging place to teach.

-What is the project you’re currently working on?
I’m writing an environmental and political history of water in the arid regions of western Argentina. Taking a cue from work on water elsewhere, especially in the US West, I’m tracing how Argentina came to be the world’s fifth-largest wine producer on some of the driest land on earth. With funding from Fulbright and the ACLS, I spent a year in Argentina doing field research, and the UCHI has been an excellent opportunity to take stock of that material and shape it into a book. The book centers on how the region has been governed through water, how the institutions and knowledges formed to control water are the basis for political power, and UCHI has been a useful community to think through the implications of that.    
-How did you arrive at this topic?
My first book was about how a city and province in Argentina were destroyed and remade by an earthquake. That province borders on Mendoza, the site of my current research. In working on that book, it became clear to me how central the practices and infrastructure of irrigation were to local life. That book also led me into environmental history more broadly, an enormously dynamic field which is still fairly incipient in Latin American scholarship. This book is an attempt to bring the methods of environmental history to bear on the problem my earlier research had uncovered, and to do so not in the tight focus on a decade or so that I employed in my first book, but rather the broad sweep of a century.
-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?
When I was doing research in Argentina, the challenges of climate change and struggles for environmental justice were very much on the local agenda, but scholarly understandings of how they related to the vast, century-long, province-wide irrigation project were very flat and instrumental.  My hope is to contribute to a richer discussion of how environmental concerns can be the starting point for broader debates about building a more just and resilient future. Perhaps I’ll be able to enrich those local debates; perhaps this might also contribute to international discussions about water, justice, and climate change, which often seem to ignore the historical experience and expertise of actors in the Global South.

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