Modernizations and Global Connections

The images presented in this group symbolize the magnitude of industrialization through agriculture and infrastructure in Central America during the late 19th and early 20th century. Many aspects of daily life were transformed, and the images suggest a connection between global relationships and national identity based on modernity. These national modernity projects such as the Panama Canal, banana plantations, and the construction of railroads promoted by the United States, had long lasting impacts on how citizens identified themselves. The displayed images reflect the significance of commercial investment and transportation in isolated regions.

"Construction of locks, Pedro Miguel, showing Canal Cut and monster Electric Cranes in Operation, Panama Canal"
circa 1910

The ‘monster' electric cranes depicted on this postcard assist in the construction of Panama Canal locks. The Panama Canal was a massive undertaking that attracted many tourists to the zone. This postcard reflects this tourism, for it was sent by 'Emma' from Panama to her sister in Bradford, Pennsylvania on September 29, 1910, and forms part of a larger collection of postcards presenting the Panama Canal construction and culture, infrastructure, and people of the country. These postcards exemplify how material objects and images circulated between Latin America and the United States, revealing day-to-day experiences of Americans who lived in and traveled through Panama.

"Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal at Balboa"
circa 1904-1914

Landscapes are typically seen as static, but the Panama Canal was anything but. This photo represents the vast amount of change occurring over the Panamanian landscape from the 19th and into the 20th century. The Panama Railroad, completed in 1850 and depicted here, was joined by the Canal during the early 1900s. And yet, this image is devoid of humans. The construction of the Canal was a dynamic process that greatly influenced the lives of the Panamanian people and the West Indian immigrant laborers, yet no humans working on this project can be seen in this image. Labor on these projects was difficult, and many thousands died during construction. However, the project was a crucial aspect of emerging modernity for Panama, as well as for Latin America as a whole.

Photographs of the Corocito banana plantation and railroad

The engineer, Robert Steinfeld, captured a series of black and white photos relating to banana production and railroad construction while working for United Fruit Company in Honduras in 1922. The images here show the landscape of the region along with the cultivators and workers in a railroad station surrounded by orderly banana farms. Industrial owners controlled the standardization of agricultural procedures on plantations, and labor depended on rural workers. Railroad construction facilitated the growth of banana exports. Expansion led industrial growth and international connections with the United States. By the early 20th century, Honduras became a "banana republic" due to its dependence on export of banana production.

"Qualified Men in Atlantic Division"
circa 1910

This is a list of American men that worked on the Panama Canal. They are listed as qualified men from the Atlantic Division, and their dates of employment and qualification are given, as well as salary. The Panama Canal is a large, modern structure and was a source of transnational conflict. It is less often thought of on an individual level. The workers that built the Canal helped shape not only the physical structure, but the identity and modernization of Panama and Latin America in the following century.

"Among the finest Bananas in the world—shipping station on a great Banana plantation, Zent, Costa Rica"
circa 1900

Paul A. Hughes’ collection displays a series of Stereographs (two almost identical photographs) for the publishing company Underwood & Underwood. The stereographs produced a three-dimensional image when layered on top of one another, thereby showing the magnitude of the cultivation through a 3-D perspective. The images show Costa Rica’s industrial advancements in a banana plantation at the end of the nineteenth century. The inscription in the different languages and the shipping station show global connections. The element of bananas represents a controlled commodity, while also relating it to the landscape and unidentified workers and mules to produce and transport the “finest bananas in the world.”