- School of History and Sociology
Germán Vergara (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley) specializes in environmental and Latin American history. His research and teaching explore environmental change, animal history, energy regimes, and the ecological problems of capitalism(s) and industrialization in Latin America over the past two centuries and try to locate those changes in a global context.
His book Fueling Mexico: Energy and Environment, 1850-1950 (Cambridge University Press, 2021) examines how and why modern Mexico transitioned from an agrarian society powered by animal muscle, water, and wood to a fossil-fueled industrial society. Within a century, Mexico went from an energy regime based on dispersed solar energy accumulated in plants and human and animal muscle to one based on the concentrated ancient sunlight trapped in fossil fuels. The study traces the ways in which industrialists, state officials, engineers, and ecology shaped this process and suggests that fossil fuels were adopted in response to the limits of wood-and-water based industrialization, the predominant manufacturing model of the late nineteenth century. Such limits took the form of large-scale deforestation, insufficient energy supplies, and increased social conflict over forests and water. For Mexican elites, fossil fuels seemed like the best—if not the only—option the country had for industrializing, prospering, and securing its national sovereignty over the long term. The book argues that the shift to a carbon-based society has been the main agent of environmental, economic, and social change in Mexico for over a century. The decision to power the country’s economy with fossil fuels locked Mexico in a cycle of endless, fossil-fueled growth—the environmental and social consequences of which were nothing less than dramatic. Fueling Mexico is the first study to look at the historical roots of today's global fossil-fuel energy regime from a Latin American perspective. The book was the recipient of the 2021-2023 Elinor Melville Prize for Latin American Environmental History (Conference on Latin American History-CLAH) and received an honorable mention for Best Book in the Humanities 2022 from the Latin American Studies Association (LASA).
While Germán's first book project examines the transition to fossil-fueled capitalist industrialization, his second book project will focus on the region's biodiversity crisis, one of capitalism's most important consequences. Recent estimates suggest that 41 percent of described amphibians, 26 percent of mammals, and 13 percent of birds currently face the threat of extinction worldwide. As one of the global centers of biodiversity, Latin America is at the heart of the current extinction crisis. The study -tentatively titled Becoming History: Species Extinctions and Capitalism in Latin America Since 1800- will tell the history of capitalism in the region through the lens of species extinctions and animal population loss while illuminating the role that economic change, scientific and cultural ideas, and other factors have had on species loss over time. Specifically, the project will analyze the dynamic between the capitalist commodification of animals and nature, environmental politics, science, animal-human relations, and species extinctions throughout nineteenth and twentieth-century Latin America.
Germán has published on energy and animal history and has forthcoming articles on the environmental history of mining and species extinctions. His article "How Coal Kept My Valley Green: Forest Conservation, State Intervention, and the Transition to Fossil Fuels in Mexico" was published in Environmental History. "Animals in Latin American History" appeared in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Latin American History. He co-edited and co-authored the Forum "Extinction and Its Interventions in the Americas" for Environmental History in 2022.
After earning his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, Germán spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow in environmental history at Brown University. He has received fellowships from The University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS), the Charles A. Hale Fellowship for Mexican History from the Latin American Studies Association, and the USMEX Fellowship Program at the University of California, San Diego. He was recently selected as the 2022-23 Cisneros Visiting Scholar of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) at Harvard University.
- Ph.D. in History, University of California, Berkeley
- Agriculture, Health, and the Environment
- Energy, Climate and Environmental Policy
- Global Cities and Urban Society
- History of Technology/Engineering and Society
- Modern Global History/Science, Technology, and Nationalism
- Latin America and Caribbean
- North America
- HTS-2051: Colonial Latin America
- HTS-2053: Mod Latin Amer History
- HTS-2100: Sci, Tech & Modern World
- HTS-2823: Special Topics
- HTS-3065: Hist Global Societies
- HTS-3081: Tech and Environment
- HTS-4091: Seminar Global Issues
- HTS-6116: Environmental History
- HTS-7001: Sociohistorical Analysis
- Fueling Mexico: Energy and Environment, 1850-1950
Date: June 2021
- Animals in Latin American History
In: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History [Peer Reviewed]
Date: May 2018
- How Coal Kept My Valley Green: Forest Conservation, State Intervention, and the Transition to Fossil Fuels in Mexico
In: Environmental History [Peer Reviewed]
Date: January 2018
- Extinctions and Its Interventions in the Americas
In: Environmental History [Peer Reviewed]
Date: April 2022