Civilizing Nature with the Spade and the Rifle: The Engineer Battalion in the Araucanía Region, Chile (1877–1891)



In the second half of the nineteenth century, Chile expanded its territory for economic and political reasons, and the Araucanía region was incorporated in this context. Not only did the occupation result in an acquirement of vast tracts of lands but also in a clash with the Mapuche, the indigenous people of the region. Records suggest that behind this process, the natural environment was also affected, since Chile wanted to transform it in order to make it more habitable for settlers and more profitable for agriculture. The case of the engineer battalion, a military unit created for opening roads and constructing buildings, illustrates this point.

Author Biography

Matías González Marilicán, Universidad Católica de Temuco & Universidad de La Frontera, Chile

Matías González Marilicán has a Bachelor’s degree in History and a Master’s degree in Environmental History. He teaches History at the Universidad Católica de Temuco and at the Universidad de La Frontera, both located in the city of Temuco, Chile. His main interest is in understanding the relationship between humans and the environment from a historical perspective, especially at a local level. Although he works in an academic context, he loves to bring environmental knowledge to wider audiences, so he can also be found teaching about nature to people of different ages through organizations like the Scouts.

Photo of Chilean troops during the occupation of the Araucanía.