Strangers on Familiar Soil Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection Edward Dallam Melillo

Yale Agrarian Studies Series
Publication date:
14 Jan 2016
Yale University Press
352 pages: 235 x 156 x 27mm
24 b-w illus.


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A wide-ranging exploration of the diverse historical connections between Chile and California

This groundbreaking history explores the many unrecognized, enduring linkages between the state of California and the country of Chile. The book begins in 1786, when a French expedition brought the potato from Chile to California, and it concludes with Chilean president Michelle Bachelet’s diplomatic visit to the Golden State in 2008. During the intervening centuries, new crops, foods, fertilizers, mining technologies, laborers, and ideas from Chile radically altered California's development. In turn, Californian systems of servitude, exotic species, educational programs, and capitalist development strategies dramatically shaped Chilean history.
Edward Dallam Melillo develops a new set of historical perspectives—tracing eastward-moving trends in U.S. history, uncovering South American influences on North America’s development, and reframing the Western Hemisphere from a Pacific vantage point. His innovative approach yields transnational insights and recovers long-forgotten connections between the peoples and ecosystems of Chile and California.

Edward Dallam Melillo is associate professor of history and environmental studies, Amherst College. He lives in Northampton, MA.

“Melillo has written what could be called a double-helix history that reveals the environmental, social, and commercial bonds between Chile and California. It is a major contribution to the emerging field of Pacific World history.”—Christopher Boyer, author of Political Landscapes: Forests, Conservation, and Community in Mexico

“This is a gem of a book: deeply researched, elegantly written, original in its conception, beautiful in its execution.”—Raymond Craib, Cornell University

“An empirically rich, well written, and wide-ranging history that provides a novel perspective on important transnational connections in the Americas.”—John Soluri, Carnegie Mellon University

“Melillo's pithy book insightfully explores how California helped make Chile and how Chile helped make California over the past two centuries. Politically astute, ecologically attuned, and easy to read.”—J. R. McNeill, author of Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914

“Melillo brilliantly centers this hemispheric history around Chile and California—two places increasingly connected over the past 200 years by crops, technologies, people, and ideas. Strangers on Familiar Soil demonstrates the tremendous potential and necessity of transnational and comparative history. This is a stunning accomplishment.”—David Igler, author of The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush

“A fascinating story of how Chile and California, on separate continents, sharing comparable climates and geography, have had dramatic reciprocal social and environmental impacts, initially fueled by the California Gold Rush.”—Harold Mooney, Stanford University

Co-winner of the 2016 Caughey Western History Prize, given by the Western History Association

Named an Honor book by the Denver Public Library for the 2016 Caroline Bancroft History Prize.