Oscar de la Torre, associate professor of Africana Studies, will have his first book, “The People of the River: Nature and Identity in Black Amazonia, 1835-1945” published by UNC Press; it is scheduled for release in October.
This work is a social and environmental history of the Africa-descended people in Brazil's Amazonian forest. It is a story of the difficult journey from slavery to peasantry, and how Black Amazonians used the environment to forge new overlapping identities as citizens, black and indigenous in the post-emancipation years.
Based on many years of archival, oral historical and ethnographic research, the author shows the intimate relations between ecology and ethnicity and how a community of Afro-Brazilians negotiated the terms of their citizenship by exercising control over their land and labor. The process involved confrontations with slave owners, state authorities and agricultural capitalists. Nevertheless, by using their intimate knowledge of the local environments to create innovative agro-ecological traditions, black Amazonians succeeded in defining an emergent identity that made them important political stakeholders in the young Brazilian nation-state.
“The People of the River” is garnering praise from scholars of Brazil and the African Diaspora. One described the book as “the most comprehensive study of slavery and black peasantry in Amazonia,” and another noted that the book “will be received with great enthusiasm and interest … in the fields of Brazilian history, slavery and emancipation, peasant and agrarian studies and the history of the African Diaspora in the United States and in Latin America.”
De la Torre also regularly teaches in the Latin American Studies program.