The governance of food technology and environmental resource flows: Connecting mills, water, wheat, and people in colonial Lima, Peru (1535-1700)

Open Access
Bell, Martha Gwenn
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 04, 2013
Committee Members:
  • Karl Stephen Zimmerer, Dissertation Advisor
  • Karl Stephen Zimmerer, Committee Chair
  • Deryck William Holdsworth, Committee Member
  • Brian Hastings King, Committee Member
  • James P Mc Carthy, Committee Member
  • David Lee Webster, Committee Member
  • Brenton Yarnal, Committee Member
  • environmental governance
  • historical political ecology
  • environmental flows
  • food technology
  • gristmills
  • Colonial Peru
This dissertation analyzes interrelationships between technology change, environmental resource flows, and environmental resource governance as part of the broader social-ecological and landscape transformations of the Columbian Exchange period. It takes the example of the Spanish introduction of gristmill technology and related wheat/bread production and water management practices to Lima, Peru during the early colonial period (1535-1700). Mills are analyzed in a historical political ecological and landscape perspective; they are conceptualized not as isolated mechanical devices, but rather as components of extensive water management systems, far-reaching grain markets and economies, and broad social networks of resource access. They were physical sites of intersection between flows of water, grain, and people. One remarkable archival collection was the main source used to trace these flows. The Libros de Cabildos de Lima (LCL) contain the records of Lima’s city council, the Cabildo, over the course of the entire colonial period. The Cabildo was the branch of colonial government in charge of regulating gristmills, distributing water rights, and provisioning the city with grain. Consequently, the LCL include a nearly unbroken record of the Cabildo’s governance strategies for mills, water, and grain across the entire period of interest. Cabildo data was compiled, analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively, and mapped. This dissertation is divided into three major case studies on mills, water, and wheat, each one exploring a different aspect of Technology-Flows-Governance relationships. Overall, this analysis demonstrates that technology, the creation and growth of urban spaces (and their related environmental and resource flows), and the governance practices associated with these technologies and flows contributed significantly to the socio-ecological and landscape changes of the Columbian Exchange period. It argues that these features, and their change over time, are vital to fresh understandings of colonialism and environment, while the general approach can be applied in diverse geographic and historical contexts.