Adrián Lerner Patrón is a historian. He obtained his BA and Licenciatura from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, and his MA, MPhil, and PhD from Yale University, where was also part of the first cohort of the Mellon Interdisciplinary Concentration in the Humanities, centered on “The technologies of Knowledge”. He is currently a Philomathia Fellow in the Consortium for the Global South at the University of Cambridge, with a focus on “Ecologies in Place,” and a lecturer and research associate in Global History at the Free University of Berlin (on leave). Before moving to Europe, he was the Princeton-Mellon Fellow in Urbanism and the Environment at Princeton University and a researcher at the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos. His research and teaching deal with environmental, social, and political issues in Latin America and from a global perspective. He is finishing a book about the urbanization of the Amazon rainforest, titled Jungle Cities.
As a Philomathia Fellow focused on “Ecologies in Place” at the Consortium for the Global South, I will focus on finishing my book about city growth in the Amazon rainforest. Jungle Cities: The Urbanization of Amazonia, studies how crucial region for the global ecosystem became urban during the twentieth century. Today, four out of every five of its inhabitants, some 30 million people, live in cities. through the parallel and divergent socio-environmental histories of Amazonia’s most important cities: Manaus (Brazil) and Iquitos (Peru). Jungle Cities is a comparative history that documents a central tenet of the project of local, national, and transnational elites to create modernity: the attempt to overcome nature, and to displace the lifestyles and peoples associated with it. Since the advent of the steamship and the integration of Amazonia to global markets during the rubber boom of 1850-1920, elites and popular classes struggled to create stable built environments in the rainforest. After the boom, decades of economic stagnation turned even the achievement of basic infrastructure a formidable challenge. By the 1960s, both Amazonian cities faced the combined pressures of explosive urban growth and the anxieties of the Cold War era. Military-led authoritarian governments in Brazil and Peru responded through radically different strategies. I explore these strategies through governmental policies towards similar, seasonally waterlogged informal neighborhoods in Manaus and Iquitos, which were stigmatized as manifestations of “environmental marginality.” Originally framed in familiar terms associated with transnational ideas about the urbanization of the Global South, policies ultimately differed because they were part of drastically different agendas towards Amazonia in Brazil and Peru. Since then, Iquitos remains organized around the management of social and environmental precariousness, with urban waters still a central issue, whereas Manaus became a “pole of development.” A demographic, commercial and industrial juggernaut, its influence reached far into the rainforest and, often tragically, it impacted the lives of Brazil’s native peoples.
The book is based on my doctoral dissertation, which was awarded the Urban History Association’s Michael Katz Award for Best Dissertation in Urban History about any region completed in 2020. It was funded by the Social Science Research Council and other competitive fellowships, and based on extensive multi-archival research in regional, thinly researched repositories in the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon and in national capitals.
I am involved in a series of collaborative projects. The most ambitious one is a co-edited volume provisionally titled Perú Global. Co-edited with political scientist Alberto Vergara at the Universidad del Pacífico (Lima, Perú), Perú Global will be a two-volume interdisciplinary publication, aimed at a general audience. It will bring together more than 40 scholars studying key aspects of Peruvian modern history, society and politics from a global perspective.
With fellow historian Javier Puente (Chair of Latin American Studies at Smith College), I am co-editing a dossier for Latin America’s prime environmental history journal, Historia Ambiental de América Latina y el Caribe (HALAC). Titled Shaping Natural Regions: Capitalism, Environment, and the Nature of Postcolonial Peru, dedicated to the mutually constitutive relationship between the histories of capitalism and of natural and geographic ideas in Peru. The dossier will include contributions from anthropologists and historians based in Peru and the United States.
With Matteo Stiglich, an urban planning scholar at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, I am editing another special journal issue dedicated to the new histories of Peru’s rapid urbanization during the twentieth century. The special issue will be published in Peru’s leading historical journal, Histórica.
I will also collaborate with articles and chapters in three additional collective publications. The first is an article for a special “Supplement” of Past & Present, one of the leading journals in the historical profession. The Supplement, edited by a team led by Michael Goebel, will be about the history of port cities, and my article will deal with the history of riverine port cities, with a focus on Amazonia. The second is an article for the Journal of Urban History, part of a special issue edited by Mariana Dantas and Andra Chastain, titled “From Books to Airplanes: Material and Non-Human Actors in Global Urban History”. My contribution will be an article about the history of a steel mill in the Amazonian City of Manaus, Brazil, during the second half of the twentieth century. The third is a chapter about land use in Amazonia between 1810-1950 for a multivolume publication titled The Anthropocene as a Multiple Crisis, edited by Olaf Kaltmeier at the University of Bielefeld.