Journal Profile: Historia Ambiental Latinoamericana y Caribeña

October 27, 2020 -- In summer of 2020, the journal Historia Ambiental Latinoamericana y Caribeña (HALAC), published by the Sociedad Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Historia Ambiental (SOLCHA), issued a supplemental issue focused on COVID-19. Published in early August (vol. 10, Edición Suplementaria), this issue includes research notes and essays as a single PDF edition.

To learn more about this supplemental issue and the journal, we recently conducted a brief interview with HALAC Editor Sandro Dutra e Silva (Professor of Geography, Universidade Estadual de Goiás, Centro Universitário de Anápolis, Brazil) over email.

HAPI currently indexes eight academic journals published in Latin America and the U.S. that focus on geography. We also include citations from another six formerly indexed Latin American titles. We added HALAC to HAPI in 2018 to enhance our coverage of environmental history in the Americas.

We hope you enjoy the interview and look forward to future journal profiles on the HAPI News page. This interview has been translated, and edited for length and clarity.

HAPI: What circumstances led the editors at Historia Ambiental Latinoamericana y Caribeña (HALAC) to publish a supplemental issue focused on COVID-19?

Dutra e Silva: We were all taken by surprise with the pandemic. Initially, social isolation measures, and even today, reinforced a variety of uncertainties. We were regularly surprised by alarming news and statistics. The impacts and effects of COVID-19 began to be felt very quickly throughout Latin America. However, the editorial response to the pandemic phenomenon came about very fortuitously. In March, at the beginning of the pandemic, I started exchanging messages with Wilson Picado, President of Sociedad Latino Americana y Caribeña de Historia Ambiental (SOLCHA) about how HALAC could respond to this phenomenon. The pandemic was announced on March 11th and the first HALAC note came out on the 23rd, which was a brief reflection by Wilson Picado on the pandemic and history. At that time, we thought it would be interesting to publish a note in HALAC in solidarity with our colleagues at SOLCHA and other environmental historians. In his brief text, which is now part of the supplementary edition of COVID-19, Wilson Picado reflected on the great laboratory of history and the dilemma of life. A short but fundamental reflection at that moment. To our surprise, the repercussions among our peers were immediate, both in the SOLCHA community and in other scientific communities. This led to new engagement. The first and most immediate was by Guillermo Castro Herrera, who immediately sent a reflection on environmental and health history in Latin America. And, subsequently, there were new additions to the project and more engagement. We heard from authors interested in writing for this type of "provisional blog" in the magazine, and others readily accepted our invitation to write notes. And it was from this initial idea that the thematic dossier developed. However, at first, it wasn’t clear that we were looking at a thematic issue but, rather, an emergency service meant to meet an emergency demand. I see, now, evaluating from a certain distance -- and although we don’t have much evidence of the issue’s impact -- that this initiative was successful. And understand my hasty assessment as purely subjective. But my positive assessment is one of commitment and engagement among the SOLCHA community, other researchers, and the general public. From the end of March to the end of June, we published weekly brief notes that presented the views of important intellectuals regarding the pandemic. All weekly notes were compiled to form the HALAC supplementary issue. And there were no rules about the form of the contributions -- some were written as brief notes and others in essay form, but always from the point of view of each researcher. And the interesting thing is that, in addition to the thematic diversity, there was also a geographical diversity, with authors from Europe, the United States, and Latin America. Now, I have a hypothesis and I have debated this with my colleagues Wilson and Marina Miraglia (HALAC's editor). I realized that the use of certain images, paintings, and other artistic expressions used in the news blog, ended up promoting identification and engagement among the general public. I have no evidence to refute or confirm my hypothesis. This is pure speculation. But I was able to perceive, in a very intuitive way, that the reaction of the public in relation to posts involving an image and a text results in greater engagement on social networks. And the idea of ??associating a note with an image, mostly of an established artist, came up very spontaneously. For example, the first image we used in Wilson Picado's "inaugural message" was a 1927 painting by Edward Hopper entitled Automat, an oil on canvas, which is currently at the Des Moines Art Center. As the notes were also published on social networks, we realized that people not only reacted to the texts themselves, sharing, engaging in the movement, but also commented on the images that accompanied the notes. And all of this was very new, in a sense, because scientific journals tend to include particular formats. But this innovation was an attempt to respond to the emergency context of the pandemic, and today we understand that it was the right decision. Other editors from major periodicals contacted us, congratulating us and also joining the movement. We are also quite sure that, like HALAC, other journals had their own experiences and insights when launching special editions. Ultimately, I believe there has been a very positive response to our efforts.

HAPI: The new issue, with Judith Carney (from UCLA) as one of the editors, is focused on "History, Science and Nature in the Atlantic Trade. " In a recent conversation you mentioned that this could be an important topic for environmental studies related to Latin America. Can you please elaborate on why? And also add in how this issue came to fruition?

Dutra e Silva: First of all, I want to highlight the important role of Judith Carney in this whole proposal. In fact, this project came about mainly because of Judith Carney's vigorous work on the Atlantic trade. I am a Black Rice [Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas] enthusiast and I think the book represents those sporadic moments of inspiring euphoria in which people are blessed by the light of wisdom. And the idea for the issue theme came a lot from interaction with Judith. I received a Portuguese version of Black Rice from her, which I ended up reviewing later. After exchanging messages, we came up with the idea of a dossier for HALAC. In promoting and building the dossier proposal, HALAC had a brilliant team of consultants, under Judith’s direction. And yes, in my opinion -- although it seems to be a topic that has already been explored a lot -- we have many original questions and sources that need to be analyzed in the Latin American context. Historical geography has already produced very rich works on this subject, but I think that environmental history has a vast frontier to be explored on the themes of history and science in the Atlantic trade. I think that this role can be developed in a leading way by Latin American universities, but also in the United States. At UCLA, for example, and also in other departments linked to Latin American Studies at universities in the United States, there is a lot of territory to be explored in relation to this topic.

HAPI: Considering that interdisciplinarity is a founding part of environmental history, what type of role has HALAC faced (over its nearly ten years of publishing) in the dissemination of scholarly production and construction of historical knowledge?

Dutra e Silva: I think that both Marina and I, in our roles as chief editors of HALAC, have focused our attention exclusively on editorial processes and, for this reason, we have not been more dynamically involved in self-assessments. I don't know how it happened with the former editors, Regina Horta and Jó Klanovics. But what I want to reinforce is that we think a lot about complying with editorial procedures, the ethical issues involved, the quality of the material to be disseminated, and, in a way, the impact that the dissemination of this product may have. But we are not always fully aware of the role of editorial work in the production of knowledge. Nor are there ways to establish data and metrics on that. In fact, we have some metrics, and we are working to understand them. Some of these metrics, for example, indicate the geographic scope of access, or the citation indicators, etc. But it is not yet clear to us as editors the impact of the dissemination of the knowledge we produce. However, we have been cautiously reviewing this information and observing a numerical growth in the interest in issues. We've also observed that we have expanded our geographic scope, to Europe and the United States, for example. And we have also shared our experiences and challenges with other publishers. And perhaps, because I am responding to HAPI, it can also be an indicator of the dissemination of the production and construction of historical knowledge and the importance of HALAC in this process. In fact, this is a question that we can't help but always ask. But I don't know that I would be able to answer you objectively. Perhaps what comforts us is to say that we in HALAC believe in this mission. We are committed to the production of historical knowledge in the environmental field and at the intersection of history with other disciplines. And this is actually the broadest commitment of environmental history itself as a historiographic field.

HAPI: While the HALAC editorial committee is largely representative of Latin American environmental historians, the scientific committee includes academics from Europe and North America. Do you have advice for journals that might be considering a scientific committee in addition to an editorial committee?

Dutra e Silva: The editorial work of HALAC, like that of other journals related to a scientific society, is very particular in terms of its representation in the councils. This is because the editorial work and management processes that support the journal always have a collective nature, even if coordinated by one or more editors. I consider this to be very important, since while exercising our role in editorial coordination we have the responsibility to center the collective interests that govern our scientific society. And that is something that I see very clearly with environmental history, coordinated brilliantly by my esteemed friend Mark Hersey. Before being editor at HALAC, I had coordinated editorial work for Fronteiras: Journal of Social, Technological and Environmental Science. And the Fronteiras editorial work followed this same logic. But also in Fronteiras, which was not a magazine of environmental history but of environmental sciences, the work was always focused on the collective mission of the group of researchers associated with the magazine. I think that this is without a doubt a clear expression of the attributes of science and scientific dissemination. That is, to be the expression of peers in a collective effort to disseminate knowledge. And I agree with you that HALAC's format of having a scientific committee and an editorial committee perhaps represents SOLCHA's zeal to have HALAC reflect the contributions of that community. And this is not an influence of SOLCHA on HALAC, but it is fundamental in considering our decision making. The editorial committee does not impose itself on editorial coordination, nor does it interfere with peer review processes. But it is a clear manifestation of the collective mission of SOLCHA expressed in HALAC. But this also highlights the work of our peers, not only in the composition of committees, but mainly in the persistent and voluntary work in guaranteeing editorial quality.