Bountiful Deserts

Sustaining Indigenous Worlds in Northern New Spain

Cynthia Radding (Author)
Paperback ($35.00), Hardcover ($100.00), Ebook ($35.00) Buy

Common understandings drawn from biblical references, literature, and art portray deserts as barren places that are far from God and spiritual sustenance. In our own time, attention focuses on the rigors of climate change in arid lands and the perils of the desert in the northern Mexican borderlands for migrants seeking shelter and a new life.

Bountiful Deserts foregrounds the knowledge of Indigenous peoples in the arid lands of northwestern Mexico, for whom the desert was anything but barren or empty. Instead, they nurtured and harvested the desert as a bountiful and sacred space. Drawing together historical texts and oral testimonies, archaeology, and natural history, author Cynthia Radding develops the relationships between people and plants and the ways that Indigenous people sustained their worlds before European contact through the changes set in motion by Spanish encounters, highlighting the long process of colonial conflicts and adaptations over more than two centuries. This work reveals the spiritual power of deserts by weaving together the cultural practices of historical peoples and contemporary living communities, centered especially on the Yaqui/Yoeme and Mayo/Yoreme.

Radding uses the tools of history, anthropology, geography, and ecology to paint an expansive picture of Indigenous worlds before and during colonial encounters. She re-creates the Indigenous worlds in both their spiritual and material realms, bringing together the analytical dimension of scientific research and the wisdom of oral traditions in its exploration of different kinds of knowledge about the natural world.

Published in cooperation with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University

“Radding’s impressive research and masterful ability to synthesize scholarship from diverse disciplines presents a comprehensive and compelling new understanding that places arid landscapes among the contested cultural spaces of the early modern world. She interprets the past with an explicit ‘poetics of history’ that embraces the contradiction of a bountiful desert to understand and explain the overlapping human ecologies of plant biomes in unexpected times and places.”—Emily Wakild, author of Revolutionary Parks: Conservation, Social Justice, and Mexico’s National Parks, 1910–1940

“Radding has created a singular narrative from a multi-layered and intricately interconnected history of a deeply complicated past—Indigenous reciprocal relationship with surrounding plant and animal communities and organically developed knowledge systems, disrupted by colonial structure and system of land acquisition and ownership that forced a new paradigm on both cultures. Bountiful Deserts should be acquired by those interested in Indigenous history and ways of knowing.”—Sandra Mathews, Western Historical Quarterly

“Few environmental and ethnohistories of colonial Latin America provide equal coverage to both Indigenous voices and non-human factors, and fewer still do so with as much
depth and nuance as this work exhibits. Radding’s work encourages us to confront alternative historical environmental beliefs and practices and inspires the hope that they might influence us today.”—James Mestaz, The Americas

For Authors

The University of Arizona Press publishes the work of leading scholars from around the globe. Learn more about submitting a proposal, preparing your final manuscript, and publication.



The University of Arizona Press is proud to share our books with readers, booksellers, media, librarians, scholars, and instructors. Join our email Newsletter. Request reprint licenses, information on subsidiary rights and translations, accessibility files, review copies, and desk and exam copies.


Support the Press

Support a premier publisher of academic, regional, and literary works. We are committed to sharing past, present, and future works that reflect the special strengths of the University of Arizona and support its land-grant mission.