Agriculture’s Energy: Learning from the History of Biofuels in Brazil and the United States

Collaborative Group

Dr. Thomas Rogers, Dr. Jeffrey T. Manuel




This coauthored book project traces the linked histories of biofuels in the United States and Brazil during the twentieth century. This story contributes to scholarship and public debate in several ways. First, despite rapidly growing interest in the fields of energy and environmental history, few historians have tackled the long history of biofuels as alternatives to gasoline, nor addressed the long history of ethanol in a comparative or transnational context. Biofuels are distinct from other renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, since they depend on agriculture and therefore lie at the nexus of agricultural and energy policy in both the United States and Brazil. Understanding their history unlocks crucial new insights into comparative agricultural, food, and energy policies in the western hemisphere. Second, this project approaches energy history through a comparative, mesoscale analysis that allows historians and social scientists to understand how national cultures, policies, and economies shape energy regimes. By approaching the story both comparatively and transnationally, this project weighs differences and seeks connections. Understanding how and why certain patterns and problems arose out of these biofuels programs sheds light on issues arising in the emerging renewable energy regime. The book will be pitched at a general audience, especially people interested in future energy policymaking, and, as a historically-minded examination of renewable energy regimes, will make a compelling case for the value of humanistic research in the global energy debate. Award period: July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2020