As a physical place, I was aware of Patagonia’s rugged beauty, but coming into this seminar, I was most aware of Patagonia as a brand. I knew of it as an eco-conscious company, an establishment founded by adventurers for adventurers, and of course I was familiar with the jagged peaks of the famous Patagonia logo. For me, Mt. Fitzroy was the immediate connection between my understanding of the brand, and a new curiosity for Patagonia as a region. Google Images did not disappoint my imagination. Like colossal splinters looming over the landscape, the Patagonian Andes gave me the impression of a wilderness more raw than I had ever experienced. The landscape I had in mind was wide and rough, as inhospitable as a glacier and as timeless as barren rock. Before I even had a legitimate reason to, I began to associate the region of Patagonia with isolation.
Very quickly, I began to learn differently. Looking back, I see this seminar as an appreciation of Patagonia and nature and landscape in terms of the human experience. The idea of Patagonia as a frontier dominates its popular reputation, and to some degree impacts its reality – the “Wild West” comparison has earned its prominence for good reason, but an appreciation for Patagonia is incomplete without an understanding of its anthropologic history.
Patagonia was often marginalized, first in a cultural sense as Darwin and his contemporaries argued over the value of aboriginal culture and civility, but since Patagonia has experienced a historical status in which it was dominated by its extraction value. Its records and timelines often stand in the shadow of the urbanized north. Patagonia was conquered and mapped out by Chile and Argentina in the 1800s as a political strategy rather than a true developmental endeavor, and the mass extermination of Patagonian native peoples went relatively unnoticed. Today, the “Patagonia Sin Represas” movement demonstrates how the power demand of the north threatens the viability of Patagonian ecosystems and agricultural productivity.
In my final project, I was drawn to the role of Patagonia during the dictatorships of the 1970s. Patagonia served as an instrument of the military governments, but similarly to other periods, is often left out of the general history of Videla and Pinochet’s regimes. I wanted to explore the idea I often saw that Patagonia was used as a sort of receptacle by the state establishment, large enough and empty enough to act as a domestic exile. The dictators strategized Patagonia as a void, using it to cover many of their human rights violations and illegal imprisonments. For decades, it seemed that the Patagonian story once again went unheard compared to the events recorded in Santiago and Buenos Aires. Over the course of my research, however, I found that the Patagonian voice was not absent, would not allow itself to be disappeared, and even today was still fighting for recognition and compensation of its victims.
The Sin Represas movement was actually part of my favorite section of the class, when we began to explore how the advent and growing popularity of ecotourism and environmental consciousness has begun to champion Patagonia’s natural and inherent value. For too much of its history, Patagonia has not been valued for its own sake. In a way this movement is doing its own work to redevelop the recognized character of Patagonia to one it is more deserving of. Not exactly rewriting the past, but perhaps serving to redirect the future.
Entering this course, my conception of Patagonia was defined in a very one-dimensional sense by the clothing brand and as a trekker’s destination. Our first assignment, Chatwin’s “In Patagonia,” gave me an impression that was in line with what we learned to be a broader narrative of Patagonia as a frontier, a wilderness to be explored through a nomadic journey, but simultaneously conflicted in the dreariness and sense of grey it cast over the landscape and its people. This greyness was a far cry from the vibrant awe-inspiring hues that images of Patagonia’s Mt Fitzroy show.
It is not surprising that the readings and films that we watched over throughout this course colored Patagonia’s history and landscape far beyond Chatwin’s canonical depiction. Particularly as we moved into the topics of the modern nation states of Chile and Argentina and their relationship to the territory, I was captivated. Bitar’s Prisoner of Pinochet and Jones’ Ecophilanthropy, Neoliberal Conservation, and the Transformation of Chilean Patagonia’s Chacabuco Valley were two readings which I found to be quite profound. Readings such as these provided a unique lens of comparison through both personal narratives of lived experience and broader societal analysis. I had never before studied Latin American history, but rather I had a much greater knowledge base of history and the modern state in Indonesia and southeast Asia. Our discussions and readings on visions of development and the impact of the cold war on Patagonia were illuminating in the number of connections that I was able to make between the narratives and practices of development between the two vastly different regions. Important differences also helped to deepen my understanding of Patagonia.
Ironically, as I reflect on how my imagination of Patagonia has greatly expanded through this course to become multi-dimensional, the one aspect that I feel needs further exploration is tourism. This is not to say that we failed to adequately study tourism’s impacts on the region. Tourism was the undertone for almost everything we learned throughout the course because it was the common theme of understanding that we all shared going in. But our inability to travel to Patagonia and see the day-to-day of tourism has left this aspect to Patagonia being less important in my understanding than I initially expected it to. Maybe this is not the worst thing, a compensation for a broad lack of understanding of Patagonia beyond tourism in the public’s eyes.
It is amusing to reflect now on the drawings that we were asked to create the first day of class. Then I was nervous both because of a complete lack of artistic ability to represent my ideas and because of a general lack of ideas. On my page, I included mountains, a jacket, and sheep. I knew almost nothing about Patagonia. If asked to do this activity again, I still would feel a sense of nervousness, but for slightly different reasons. Yes, one aspect stays the same – I still lack any talent in the visual arts, but I now grapple over how I could fit all the different topics and themes that we investigated onto the page. I would include the same objects – a jacket, sheep, and mountains – but I would also include dams, salmon, the Mapuche, the indigenous tribes who originally peopled the region, seals, private protected areas, Darwin and the Beagel, and so much more. This image is still incomplete, and it is my hope that it will continue to expand beyond this course in unexpected ways.
I remember almost exactly what my drawing of Patagonia looked like on the first day of class: rugged mountains in the background, the bow of a colonial ship with the caption Ah, Patagón! , a herd of penguins, a Tehuelche native on the shore, Patagonia clothing, and a steaming maté. If someone asked me to name five more facts about Patagonia, they would have been disappointed. However, after having spent a whole semester studying the region, I would now struggle to limit myself to just five. During the course, Chatwin taught me that Patagonia is home to exiles, madmen, superstitions, and historical fables, but also nothingness; Andermann highlighted the capacity of its natural history museums to materialize a national identity during the age of state-craft; Howkins demonstrated that tension between Argentina and Chile’s conflicting sovereignty claims to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands were exacerbated during the International Geophysical Year; moreover, Louder and Bosak introduced me to the emotional impact that the development of national parks has on local communities. Patagonia is more than a vast frontier at the end of the world, home to penguins and the remembrance of native populations. Rather, it is a modern stage upon which complex dynamical systems have manifested, where migrants flock to every year to further the region’s pursuit of ecotourism, where human rights have been jeopardized by militaristic dictatorships, where neoliberalism was tested under international purview, and so much more.
While reflecting, I can easily identify the peaks and troughs I experienced while learning about Patagonia– pun intended. My favorite aspect of the class was simply its breadth. It was interesting to view the same region from so many different lenses, including glacial history, indigenous culture, state-building, an innately human desire for adventure, and moral business practices. The part of the class I most struggled with, however, ironically tied into this. I had little experience with many of the themes we discussed, so in plenty of cases it was my first time reading scholarly articles on topics such as international relations. On another note, I thoroughly enjoyed conducting my own research for my final essay. Like many of the scholars whose work I had spent the semester studying, I was able to identify a niche topic in Patagonia and relate the implications of my work to a broader, global context. My essay ended up describing the labor side of ecotourism in the region, relating it to a larger political and economic framework that had been manifesting in the Southern Cone for decades. I was able to read the work of dozens of scholars, one of whom was actually the father of the exact friend who I had mentioned in my application essay to the course! In short, even though we were unable to physically travel to the tip of the world, I was still able to bear witness to a remarkable frontier: the pursuit of knowledge of faraway lands, of a world just seemingly out of reach.
When I first read about this class, I immediately applied for it because it presented the opportunity to learn about a region that I knew nothing of. Patagonia was a mystery to me, an unexplored culture and an unknown history. In fact, until the first week of this class, I was not even sure of the exact geographic boundaries of the region. Little did I know that twelve weeks of intense studying would leave Patagonia to be more of a mystery to me than it ever was before.
Throughout this course we read Darwin’s chronicles and Chatwin’s narratives of Patagonia. These narratives made me realise the importance of first-hand accounts in shaping our imaginations and perspectives about a rarer, unexplored parts of the world. Much of Patagonian history has been hostage to Darwin’s mischaracterization of its landscape or the mythic descriptions of its people. Even Chatwin’s people-centric account of the region capture a different essence of the land. For people sitting in their living rooms wanting to know more about Patagonia, these narratives have been an important conduit to that land. Even till today, such imaginations continue to dictate our picturization of Patagonia. Can we ever truly capture Patagonia for what it truly is? Should we
Patagonia is a region where geography has played a huge role in shaping the history, culture and traditions of the region. The practices of the indigenous tribes were shaped by their surrounding geographies. The division of Patagonia itself into Chilean Patagonia and Argentinian Patagonia has been dictated and disputed by geography. Through this course, I have come to recognize such importance that geography in and of itself plays in determining the socio-cultural and political processes of a region. Not only does it unify a region across time and space, but it also divides it. Regions like Patagonia, where geography is at its extremity, can we ever truly conquer it, and will it always remain a ‘frontier’?
The region today in fact has amalgamated its alluring imaginations and challenging geography to build a thriving tourism industry. Patagonia, as a region, has been rebranded as a hideout for adventurers and explorers of the world. In fact, it has come to be seen as a gateway to the seventh continent, Antarctica. I was amazed to learn about the rebranding of an entire region itself, not by endogenous actors but by exogenous ones. Some living in Patagonia still feel as helpless and at the mercy of outside actors. It is a continuous cycle of the region being exploited by ‘outsiders’. But who are the ‘outsiders’ in Patagonia? For a region that has witnessed constant waves of migrations and evictions, it is impossible to ascertain who the real inhabitants are, which complicates the political debates of the region.
It was these series of unending questions spanning disciplines that I was most excited to explore through this class. No matter how far away, Patagonia will always be a region close to my heart!
Before taking this class, I viewed Patagonia primarily as a region separate from its countries rather than a part of Argentina and Chile. However, learning about how Patagonia was utilized by the countries since the nation states’ beginnings created a Patagonia that has very large historical significance.
Something that blew my mind in this class is how much science can and is used as a political tool. As a STEM major, I previously thought that science is some of the least controversial aspects of society because of its roots in evidence and facts. I was intrigued by the notion that museums were used to create national identity, and I got to see a new side of science for the sake of politics regarding Antarctic control. Science was used as a political weapon by people in positions of power to sway the masses, which is a cunning way to use something rooted in factual evidence to facilitate something more emotional.
Related to the idea that science is controlled by people that could be considered to be somewhat “above” regular society, I found that the treatment of Patagonia to be somewhat similar in history. The impression of Patagonia as a land of wilderness has been created by people outside of Patagonia, and the lives of the people who actually live in the region are easily forgotten. In the early to mid 1800s, when Patagonia was the victim of Chilean and Argentinian expansion, the natives that lived there were ignored in favor of trying to move “citizens” down south. When the countries were attempting to build a national identity and gain international power, the people living in the capitals portrayed an image of Patagonia for their benefit. In modern times, I got the impression that the rest of the world outside of Patagonia sees it as “the last remaining wilderness” or a place where nature is abundant, but during my research for my final paper, I learned that much more of Patagonia is affected by human activity than I originally thought.
Because I never really considered Patagonia as a region belonging to countries, I never thought of the human impacts there other than tourism on the land and ecosystems. Looking back on what we’ve discussed in class, it seems like my conception of Patagonia was close to what Darwin portrayed (without the indigenous peoples) in Voyage of the Beagle. Learning about Patagonia and its role in world history, however, opened up my eyes to the impact it has had in the world and how it is a place filled with people, contrary to what comes to mind when we think “lots of nature.” It has opened up my eyes to how people are everywhere in the world and no place is left unscathed by human activity.
Previously, I had thought of Patagonia to be a pristine frontier in southern Chile and Argentina. I pictured the landscape to be relatively barren, and for the wilderness to have not been any more significant than a neighborhood forest.
Little did I realize that these mountains were alive with history and influence. I had not even considered the indigenous populations that had made homes here for hundreds of years: with each group of people possessing their own rich traditions, lifestyle, and community structure. It was fascinating to learn alternate theories to the evolution of man, in addition to the strong feeling these people had for the spirits that controlled their lives.
When I had researched the topic for my initial application essay, I had found surface-level information about Charles Darwin and his travels around the area. Through our readings, I was fascinated by his naval explorations, documentation of never-before-seen species and landscapes, and especially his descriptions of indigenous people. It was shocking to see how quickly a truth and fact-based man could succumb to opinion.
I had no idea that the region was so pivotal in relations between Chile and Argentina, with each nation pushing further south to claim territory. Unsurprisingly, these seemed to be for imperialistic purposes more so than anything else. As a result, the indigenous people that lived there and the untouched wilderness become the domain of the state.
Nevertheless, people continued to make their way to the region. Sheepfarming became a central industry in a climate and soil which could support little else to a great extent.
Soon thereafter, tourism became popular. I’m reminded of one of our earlier books, Chatwin’s In Patagonia, telling the tales of a wandering nomad. Chatwin was able to experience the lives of so many others who had left behind their own lives to start anew in Patagonia: people of all ages and backgrounds from across the globe. I recall Chatwin writing that Patagonia was a perfect retreat to wait out the downfall of the Earth, or something along those lines.
Tourism was furthered in other ways, such as Ushuaia’s claim to Antarctic tourism, which ignited the explorer within me. I connect this to modern-day inspirations like Colin O’Brady, who led a recent team which was the first to row a man-powered boat across the Drake Passage from South America to Antarctica.
Lastly, it was fascinating to see how Patagonia as a brand has interfaced with the landscape. This was so intriguing to me that I decided to use it as the topic for my final essay. Between the company’s conservation efforts, defining its target audience, and using the landscape as a symbol for an adventurous lifestyle, the landscape is embedded in the fibers of Patagonia Fleeces.
Overall, it has been amazing analyzing the landscape through so many different lenses, and I truly hope to have the privilege to travel to this mystical at some point, be it the coming fall break or later in my life.
Can one truly understand something without experiencing it? This question comes with many layers: experience is certainly subjective and focusing ability or knowledge around it can be an unfair standard, where assumptions can diminish a lot of work done on a topic. As travel becomes scarce in a world with coronavirus, understanding without experience may become a new normal. Before coming into the seminar, I had neither knowledge nor experience. All I knew about Patagonia was its landscape. I didn’t understand the magnitude of the rich history waiting to be uncovered. The famous skyline of the Andes mountains where Mount Fitzroy emerges through the clouds was powerful, but I thought it was all that there was to see.
Patagonia is a place that people from all over the world call home. This characteristic exists in contrast to the time when indigenous people solely inhabited the vast archipelago and has developed through the outsourcing of Patagonia to the rest of the world throughout the 19th century – a large part of the scientific research in the region; however, people outside of Patagonia have historically determined its identity. The narrative of the strong Araucanian warrior stands at odds with so-called contemporary indigenous savagery. These examples of extortion for an end so far away from the origin of the means provide an interesting answer to the question at hand. White Europeans have told the story of Patagonia instead of indigenous inhabitants many times. In this case, knowledge seems less valuable because the people learning are taking the nature of the experience for granted without the whole story. Retelling history can often be a fine line between unintentionally omitting certain events and supporting a biased narrative.
I think the answer to my initial question lies somewhere in between. Knowledge and experience go hand in hand, but a curious scholar ought not rely on just one. This class has taught me that the most important part of history is understanding who is telling it. Darwin wrote with the assumption that the English were most superior. In the war of the Pacific, the Chilean government praised the strength of the indigenous warrior while deeming contemporary masculinity of Araucanians as primitive and barbaric. Patagonia, the brand founded by Yvon Chouinard, uses the name of the region to sell adventure-wear: clothing too expensive for the people who make the clothes to buy. While these examples require more nuance to establish and prove, all these things are important considerations in the development of a place. Patagonia has proved itself to be mysterious, full of life, and highly contested. Now more than ever, the region must stand up to development for the sake of preservation and find solace between its history and reality of impositions and power struggles. As for the rest of the world, we must learn to understand without experiencing. That is, not to replace but rather to suffice until we can finally put the name to the place.
As I was doing research for my final project, I realized that before taking this class my perception of Patagonia was really one developed by Western media and ideals. To borrow language from our readings throughout the year, I thought of Patagonia as an imagined space: a landscape of pristine nature. This is shown in my initial drawing for the class, which was a guanaco standing in front of the Fitz Roy mountain range, an inspiration from the Patagonia clothing brand which motivates the idea of Patagonia as a magical place. I was always interested in visiting Patagonia to experience its natural beauty, yet I never even considered the complex cultural history of the region.
I therefore found the cultural threads throughout the semester following the native Mapuche’s experiences, from Darwin, to European colonists, to the Chilean and Argentine states, to be particularly helpful in reframing my perception of the region. While the Mapuche in Patagonia offered a specific example, I enjoyed the global movements and time periods that each of the weeks represented. Learning about Darwin and his observations of the Mapuche through a supposedly scientific lens was reminiscent of early explorers in Northern America as well as later explorations into the African continent. Similarly, the independence movements in Chile and Argentina and the exclusion of native peoples from their emerging national identities coincides heavily with the formation of other former-colonial states, such as the United States or Australia. Learning about these events through the location of Patagonia offered a new way to look at these global trends. For example, I enjoyed learning about the political impact of museums and reading Child’s paper on the impact of stamps in establishing land rights. Learning about these methods of colonization and nation-building, referred to as telegraph-pole colonization in class, offered a new perspective on the motivations behind seemingly mundane, bureaucratic things used by nations around the world.
One thread from class that especially struck me was the impact of protected areas and the use of protected areas to suppress the rights of indigenous peoples. While discussing the ways in which foreign establishment of private protected areas in Patagonia affected the cultural identities of local campesinos and Mapuche, it was interesting to see the parallel this held to the earlier actions of the United States government. I learned about the way in which the United States government used national parks to evict Native Americans and erase their culture, starting with the foundational Yellowstone National Park. My family and I often visit national parks, such as Yellowstone, yet I had never stopped to recognize this underlying indigenous history. This portion of the class very much opened my eyes to the idea of a virtualized vision of nature and some of the harm that lays beneath the beneficial surface of protected areas and conservation globally.
Overall, this class has changed my perspective of Patagonia from one of a natural landscape to one involving a rich and complicated cultural history. Furthermore, it has made me generally more perceptive of the hidden nuances in seemingly straight-forward things and has made me more attune to the ongoing cultural struggles between indigenous peoples and nations around the world.
It was very late at night. I was working on my final essay, reading and learning about the native peoples of Tierra del Fuego. I stumbled upon Martin Gusinde’s accounts and was powerfully drawn in. I wrote to a friend at 4:00 AM: “I feel overwhelmed, viscerally and inexplicably connected with the landscapes of Tierra del Fuego. Can you feel connected to people that no longer exist and nostalgic about a place you’ve never known for yourself? Or am I just very sleepy?”
Before taking this course, I had known Patagonia primarily as the winterwear band, and secondarily as the barren and windswept triangle at the base of South America. In other words, I really didn’t know it at all. I have learnt, over the course of this semester, that Patagonia is much more than the brand or the forbidding landscape. It is endowed with cultural histories that animate and give meaning to its hostile environments. And so, in order to understand and truly appreciate Patagonia, I learnt that I must move beyond the superficial understanding of “space,” in terms of the tangible physical geography of the landscape, and think about it instead in terms of “place,” by first understanding the rich and complex imaginative edifice within which the landscape is situated. And to do this, I’d have to reimagine Patagonia through the eyes of its indigenous peoples. In Tierra del Fuego, for example, the Selk’nam and the Yamana believed that they inhabited living landscapes. They were surrounded by spirits and invisible beings, and so they were never truly alone. Still, when we normally think about these tribes, we imagine they must have led lonely, detached lives. But they were actually so deeply connected with the landscapes surrounding them – they even named themselves after the places they came from – and they saw these so differently from any outsider. I thought it was beautiful, an act in the construction of meaning because they were able to carve out a place for themselves even in extremely difficult and unforgiving environments.
Another thing that stuck with me is that even Patagonia (the clothing brand), a ‘green’ (greenwashed?) brand which does much conservation work in the region, takes an imposing, top-down “fortress conservation” approach, focusing on charismatic megafauna like the puma and creating pristine national parks. Such approaches aren’t always sensitive to the underlying sociocultural fabric of the regions they are implemented in. For all the emphasis placed on pumas, sheep are far more culturally significant to native ranchers, known as gauchos. Commoditizing nature by transforming these parks into tourist attractions draws them into the neoliberal system, refueling capitalism and perpetuating the cycles of profiteering and philanthropism while disabling local self-sufficiency. The irony of this situation impressed upon me the importance of any kind of environmental justice movement to understand the sociocultural context in which it is pushing for change.
When I applied to take this course, all I knew about Patagonia was that it was:
1) A southern region quite mysterious to me.
2) The namesake of a winter jacket gifted to me about a month earlier.
Throughout the semester, I studied Patagonia through historical and ethnographic lenses- tracking its indigenous peoples, colonialism, conquests, conservation efforts, sustainability, eco-philanthropy, and social movements. Throughout the twelve week duration of the course, I went from being in the position of someone probably unable to pinpoint Patagonia on a map, to a scholar on the region, able to draw a map of the region itself, and having knowledge of its entire history, and present state.
As I did the course readings, I found myself increasingly focusing on the social lives of Patagonians. I enjoyed reading about the traditions of indigenous Patatgonian populations, and knew that I wanted to highlight indigenous Patagonian culture in some form when crafting my final project.
When the class trip to Patagonia was still expected to happen, my initial project focus was on obtaining footage for a film that would uplift local businesses, estancias, and capture the daily lives of the people of Patagonia. I wanted to focus on crafting a societal lens for which anyone who views the website to experience a glimpse of daily life in the region. I knew that I would have a unique opportunity to experience life in a region that will remain mysterious and impersonal to the many who will never have the opportunities or resources to travel to Patagonia.
I decided to focus on the Patagonia Sin Represas movement, because it not only uplifts the strength of Patagonia’s indigenous Mapuche population, but is also a social movement that encompasses all of Patagonian society, as the impacts of HidroAysén would have rippling impacts throughout the entire region. Studying this movement would allow me to highlight not only the incredible accomplishment of the Patagonian population shutting down this huge governmental endeavor, but also the specific forces of people who organized the protests that made the movement successful. This would, in turn, allow me to highlight representative communities and people within Patagonian society.
Not many students will have the opportunity to take a class about Patagonia, and even fewer people outside of the realm of higher education will have the resources to dedicate twelve weeks to learning about this space that (although I have yet to travel to it) has become so personal to me. Therefore, I hope that this webpage offers a small window into all that we have learned about Patagonia, and will potentially serve as a catalyst for further conversations about the region.
Going into this class, I did not know what to expect. I had a general familiarity with Patagonia from the history I had managed to learn from Argentine friends, a general interest in Argentina’s culture and literature that used Patagonia as a blank canvas to paint upon it endless possibilities of freedom and adventure. While I knew about the Conquista del Desierto, the Malvinas Islands conflict, biodiversity and the history of travel narratives about Patagonia, the region was still a mythical, pristine land shrouded in mystery. Unsure of what material would be covered and excited to finally visit the land I had dreamed of for so long, I decided to enroll in the class.
After twelve weeks of reading about and discussing some of the various facets of Patagonia, I can say that it is now much less mysterious to me than before, but somehow even more interesting. Now, I can see the political struggles hidden behind its beautiful landscapes that usually feature the Andes mountain range. I have come to realize that Patagonia itself is not just one place, but rather a group of historically connected places that share a general geographic location and a history of struggle. I understand that what Patagonia is and means can change from one place inside Patagonia to another, since in some regions it can be a wet, mountainous terrain and in others, not even far away from the former, the vast pampa desert. While I was aware of the variety of landscapes in Patagonia, I was not able to locate and recognize their importance not only to the region’s geography but politics and community development until after taking the class.
As for the historical part of the seminar, I learned a lot about the distinct peoples that inhabited Patagonia before the colonization occurred, especially because I had never learned the
differences between indigenous communities in Patagonia before. I was in awe due to the ingenuity these people showed when adapting to the harsh climate and terrain. Moreover, it gave me a deeper comprehension as to why the South had not been colonized during the colonial period and how this changed Argentina and Chile’s relationship to its native communities and their national identities, something that had always puzzled me as a Mexican used to seeing people from mestizo heritage and using native words in everyday speech.
Finally, I believe that the last part of this course helped me think more critically about conservation. I had never thought about the influence neoliberalism had in conservation efforts, nor how much conservation in South America and other parts of the world relied on private protected areas. I believe I will now think critically about how conservation is carried out and what it entails for local communities. Now I am aware that there are many different ways to take care of landscapes and resources than before, and how places for conservation can be used for governmental, corporate and economic interests.
I am glad to have taken the class, even if its structure changed dramatically throughout the course of the semester. I believe that what I learned will help me appreciate Patagonia much more when I happen to go there. Not only that, but now I will try to be mindful about my consumption choices, think more closely about power dynamics caused by historical events and question the narratives being presented to me everywhere I go. I hope to go back to our Patagonia imaginary, through films, texts and maybe, hopefully, when I finally set foot in that fascinating place.
This was the first history class I’ve taken outside of high school and, for the most part, outside of the United States. I came in with little to no knowledge of Patagonia – aware of Yvon Chouinard, the brand’s inspiration, and the natural wonders that the region was known for. I certainly was not aware of the size of Patagonia, nor its complex history. This class certainly expanded my knowledge of the region that is Patagonia in addition to my ability to read and analyze historical texts. Some of our most memorable class discussions were centered around Chilean and Argentine identity and how it both connected to and distanced itself from native culture and history. The legacy of Dawson Island is fascinating and reading about the United States’ influence in Chile’s politics attests to the influence of the United States around the world, especially with international political power and leanings. Prior to this class, I never realized the variety of issues and topics one region could hold, from the Patagonia Sin Represas movement to the hurdles of nation-building.
One of my biggest take-aways from this class was analyzing texts. Learning to, first and foremost, look at the author and think about how their own motives and opinions affect their writing. This was especially apparent in the Julius Popper readings, which I admittedly initially looked at face-value, without looking into Popper’s relationship with the Argentine government, nationality, and economic intentions. While this is something for me to keep in mind when I look at sources, both primary and secondary, it’s also something for me to keep in mind when I write my own papers. Making sure to find a variety of sources and not homogenizing groups of people is extremely important in accurately representing history.
Specifically, with regards to Patagonia, I’ve learned so many fascinating things about the region. Even some of our first readings were so enlightening, Chatwin told us of the remarkable diversity of people and places while McEwan described the physical features of the land, history of indigenous people, and preexisting culture. As we dove further and further into Patagonian history, I was surprised at the depth of impact things like museums had, never really aware of the intense political statements they make, in addition to attracting tourists, educating people on Patagonia, and more. Patagonia is so little known but so rich in history and meaning. Not being able to go to the place we had learned so much about is clearly a bummer, but I walk away from this class much more knowledgeable, informed, and interested in the history of other regions that are not as well-known or documented in contemporary texts. I also walk away with a much greater appreciation of seemingly minor establishments like cattle farms, museums and churches. I’m so grateful for this class and the incredible people I got to take it with, fascinating texts we read, and amazing professor. I hope that we can make it out to Patagonia and connect our knowledge with real-life experiences.