Leo Barleta: “Simulating the Past: Agent-Based Modeling and Environmental Change in Early Brazil”

Date Range
Tue March 1st 2022, 12:00 - 1:15pm
Hybrid Event: In-Person at CESTA and via Zoom

Register here for zoom information

Leo Barleta: “Simulating the Past: Agent-Based Modeling and Environmental Change in Early Brazil”

Note: This is our first in-person seminar since 2020. We are looking forward to welcoming you back into our space! A box lunch will be available to in-person attendees for takeaway.

About this talk: This talk examines the use of computer simulations—particularly agent-based modeling (ABM)—as part of the digital humanists’ toolkit. ABM is a technique to simulate the behavior of individual agents, measuring the consequences of the interactions of these agents within a modeled environment. In this particular case study, the method served to replicate virtually the spatial dynamic of the expanding agricultural frontier in early Brazil. As argued by extensive literature, colonists’ adoption of slash-and-burn farming methods increased the pressure over the Atlantic rainforest, leading to deforestation. The agent-based model created for this study thus permits assessing the scale of this process in a situation in which primary evidence is scarce and mostly anecdotal. The presentation of the simulation and some results foregrounds a broader discussion of some potentials and limitations of ABM among digital humanities practitioners.

About the speaker: Leonardo Barleta is a Postdoctoral Scholar at Stanford Data Science. He is a historian of Latin America, whose research interests focus mostly on the historical production of space, including topics ranging from territorial formation and geographic mobility to land tenure and environmental change to urbanization—all of which prominently feature digital methods. He earned his Ph.D. in History at Stanford University in 2021 with a dissertation entitled “Empire in the Backlands: Mobility and the Interiorization of the Portuguese Colonization in Brazil, 17th and 18th centuries.”