SESYNC Postdoc Matthew LaFevor Awarded Wrigley-Fairchild Prize

The American Geographical Society announced today that Dr. Matthew C. LaFevor, postdoctoral fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESNYC), has been selected to receive the seventh Wrigley-Fairchild Prize.

The Wrigley-Fairchild Prize is given once every three years to the author of the best article by an early-career scholar published in the most recent three volumes of the Geographical Review. The American Geographical Society is recognizing Dr. LaFevor for his Geographical Review paper "Building a Colonial Resource Monopoly: The Expansion of Sulphur Mining in New Spain (1600–1820)."

For the paper, Dr. LaFevor drew on an immense body of sources in the Mexican archives to retell a complex series of historical events within the broader framework of human and environmental challenges. By concentrating on a critical natural resource—sulphur used in gunpowder and mining explosives—he presents a powerful narrative about the changing geography of sulphur mining in the late 18th century and its relationship to gunpowder manufacture and distribution across Mexico. His research illuminates tensions that emerged between small-scale clandestine miners and public officials who had a responsibility to enforce regulations, while also enabling production of this valued commodity. His detailed work exposes delicate negotiations between producers and regulators that allowed contraband mining to persist in the face of prohibitions.

Most importantly, he challenges the notion that commodity producers were "marionettes" controlled by rigid colonial policy and concludes that "strict monopolistic control of sulphur from Mexico City was incompatible with the geographical realities of New Spain."

Dr. LaFevor will receive the Wrigley-Fairchild Prize during the American Geographical Society’s annual Fall Symposium at Columbia University in November 2016.

Dr. LaFevor is a geographer who studies how people perceive of, impact, and are affected by the biophysical environment. His research examines human–environment relationships, water resources and management, conservation agriculture, environmental history, and the regions of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the larger Atlantic World.

Established in 1851, the American Geographical Society is the oldest professional geographical organization in the United States. It is recognized world-wide as a pioneer in geographical research and education and has been awarding medals for outstanding accomplishments in geography for more than 117 years.


The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating data-driven scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.