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WinklerPrins discusses potential international impact of Amazonian dark earths

On Monday, October 1, Dr. Antoinette WinklerPrins, program director of the Geography and Spatial Science Division, Behavioral, Cognitive and Social Sciences Directorate at the National Science Foundation and faculty member of Michigan State University, delivered a lecture entitled “Amazonian Dark Earths” as the second event in the Reves International Affairs Lecture Series. WinklerPrins discussed her research and its implications on international conservation and regional development. 

Found in areas primarily located in the northern, less developed section of the Amazon Basin, Amazonian dark earths are fertile soil recognizable by their dark color, as well as the presence of pottery and other indications of human activity. Habitation, refuse and in-field burning all contributed to the development of this darkened earth.      

According to WinklerPrins, evidence of human activity in the creation of dark earths provides a model for conservation and development in the future. 

“Moving beyond the idea of just preserving wilderness, we have to accept human beings as part of that nature,” she told the assembled crowd of William & Mary students and faculty.

WinklerPrins also discussed the important regional and international conservation developments linked to her work. She identified the southern region of the Amazon basin, known as the arc of deforestation, as deserving of conservation attention.

“That’s where efforts should be to intensify that already developed space in order to preserve and conserve, in a bio-cultural way, the forested areas,” she said.

There remains tension between the needs of global development and conservation, however, with the Amazon rife with international entanglements. WinklerPrins described a “prickliness” between Brazilians concerned with national sovereignty and conservationists from the Global North who argue, among other things, that the Amazon represents “the lungs of the world” and thus is of global concern.

“Life must be lived amidst that which was made before,” WinklerPrins reminded the audience at the conclusion of her lecture, quoting cultural geographer D.W. Meinig, before expressing hope that a deeper understanding of Amazonian dark earths will help shape conservation and development policies that balance the needs of society and nature.            

WinklerPrins’s lecture was sponsored by the Reves Center for International Studies and the Latin American Studies Program