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While there are a number of important studies of visual culture in the historiographies of the U.S. and Europe, this is the first study of photography in Central American history, and one of the few studies of its kind in the broader historiography of Latin America.[1] A Camera in the Garden of Eden goes beyond the existing scholarship on political culture and nation-state formation in Latin America to offer new arguments about the contested nature of images and visibility in a transnational site, processes of identity construction by elites and subalterns, and popular configurations of citizenship. By focusing on a UFCO town, this project is also part of a growing body of scholarship that seeks to globalize the history of the United States.[2]

To do this, I draw upon traditional sources of historical inquiry—including municipal, federal, church, and military archives, newspaper collections, and declassified U.S. government documents—along with more unconventional media, including four different photo collections, a massive archive of petitions generated by campesinos in their attempt to gain legal title to their land, Hollywood movie scripts, and fruit company advertising brochures. In the following pages, I offer a sample of the source material from two of the archives from which this project is built.

Hoja de Identificación, Salvadoran immigrants in Honduras

Salvadoran immigrants in Honduras were compelled to report their biodata in an hoja de identificación. In the late-1960s, the Honduran media and the government stoked popular animosity toward Salvadoran immigrants, many of whom had come to Honduras to work in the banana plantations. From the Rafael Platero Paz Archive.

Enter the archive of studio photographer Rafael Platero Paz.

Enter gallery of photographs by Rafael Platero Paz.

Enter the archive of United Fruit Company letters from the Bocas del Toro Division.

Enter an archive of United Fruit Company images.

[1] To cite just a few key studies from each of these geographic regions: Alan Trachtenberg, Reading American Photographs: Images As History, Mathew Brady to Walker Evans (Hill and Wang, 1990); Laura Wexler, Tender Violence: Domestic Visions in an Age of U.S. Imperialism (The University of North Carolina Press, 2000); Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); Vanessa Schwartz, Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in fin-de-siècle de Paris (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); Deborah Poole, Vision, Race, and Modernity: A Visual Economy of the Andean World (Princeton University Press, 1997); Jens Andermann, The Optic of the State: Visuality and Power in Argentina and Brazil, 1st ed. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007); John Mraz, Looking for Mexico: Modern Visual Culture and National Identity (Durham [N.C.]: Duke University Press, 2009).

[2] An early call for this sort of inter-American approach came from: Gilbert M. Joseph, Catherine LeGrand, and Ricardo D. Salvatore, Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations (Durham  N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998).