Helen Delpar. Looking South: The Evolution of Latin Americanist Scholarship in the United States, 1850-1975. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008. xiii + 241 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8173-1594-8; $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8173-5464-0.
Reviewed by Thomas Schoonover (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)
Published on H-LatAm (May, 2011)
Commissioned by Dennis R. Hidalgo (Virginia Tech)
On the Trail of Knowledge, Interest, and Research about Latin America
Helen Delpar’s book, Looking South, is a journey and an adventure--a trip through the dreams and reality of Latin America. In the book the reader encounters people, places, and ideas, often unexpectedly. Her work is historiography in an extended sense--history that encompasses all ideas, artifacts, and human development going back well into the past. Delpar follows a century and a quarter of the origins and transformation of U.S. interest in Latin America. Her work is informative, enlightening, and, at times, fascinating. Looking South will be attractive to college faculty, graduate students, undergraduates (especially in fields dealing with Latin America), and researchers--and not just in history, but in allied and related fields. Delpar uses chronology and socioeconomic development in the United States and Latin America to give outline to her project.
The core of her story is related to the origins of social science study in the United States. In the nineteenth century many Americans preferred the study of religion and biblical areas; therefore, archeology and studies of the Holy Land dominated the early work at universities and colleges. Many who deviated from religion or biblical studies looked to China or East Asia as non-Christian areas ripe for reform. It took time for interest in Latin America to grow in the United States. U.S. scholarship, like U.S. foreign policy, was most commonly shaped by domestic concerns. Looking South offers various perspectives--the chronological development of the various social science subfields, biographical stories of significant figures in the early study of Latin American society, and efforts to show the interrelationships of the subfields and the various scholars who labored during the first 125 years of U.S. consideration of Latin America.
Delpar informs the reader about the development of the study of Latin America in the education of American (and foreign) scholars. In the colonial and early nineteenth-century periods, U.S. interest in Latin America grew slowly. A few individuals, such as Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, were all self-taught in Spanish as the need for that modern language was not widely acknowledged. Formal Spanish-language instruction began in the mid-nineteenth century and Portuguese followed at the end of the century. Delpar also describes the development of instruction, including university curricula, to examine Latin America through anthropology, geography, sociology, political science, and economics.
Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, some influential, independent figures pursued personal areas of interest--commonly religion, travel, and ancient culture--in Latin America. Among the most prominent were Washington Irving (Christopher Columbus), William Prescott (the conquests of Mexico and Peru), John Lloyd Stephens (Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán), Ephraim G. Squire (Central America, Peru, and Bolivia), Adolph Bandelier (precolonial México and South America), Lewis Henry Morgan (precolonial México), and Hubert H. Bancroft (indigenous peoples, México, and Central America). These amateur scholars wrote about Latin America in a manner that would influence the first Latin Americanist scholars.
While private amateur work informed people in the mid- and late nineteenth century, the more rigid, formal accumulation and transmission of learning--the academic and organizational worlds--became increasingly significant in the late nineteenth century. U.S. students commonly pursued postgraduate training in Germany until the German seminar model was moved to the United States in the last decades of the century. Yale had the first graduate training in 1861, followed by Johns Hopkins after 1876, Columbia in 1880, and then gradually other universities. The status, prominence, and funding of academic research fields were further motivated through new corporate bodies The best known were the American Philological Association (1866), the Modern Language Association (1883), the American Historical Association (1884), the American Economic Association (1885), the Carnegie Institute (1901), the American Political Science Association (1903), the American Council of Learned Societies (1919), and the Social Science Research Council (1923). The universities and these corporate professional associations came to control, most effectively, the agenda of research on Latin America.
A good part of the reader’s interest derives from the wealth of useful and insightful information about the individuals, their objectives, and the institutions behind various research projects, some of which educated and trained scholars for decades. In addition to the expected role of large research projects in the training of younger scholars, Delpar discusses the relationship of some Latin Americanists with the U.S. government during the two world wars. While she focuses upon historians, she devotes considerable time and thought to geographers and anthropologists, especially those whose projects involved historical perspective and research.
Delpar creates biographical sketches of some of the principal early figures in the field; among them, Leo S. Rose, Carl O. Sauer, Dana Munro, Clarence Herring, and Charles E. Chapman were especially interesting. She manages to mention all the principal figures, but--without wishing to nitpick--I had expected to see Mexicanist Stanley Ross, because Delpar’s fine study The Vogue of Things Mexican (1995) dealt with Mexican history.
Race, gender, and ethnicity are subthemes used to illuminate or underscore items in the narrative. These background themes offer an extra dimension to the study. Looking South clearly offers a reward for the modest effort required to read it. When I reached the end, my reward was that I better understood the people, ideas, and historical development of a field that I had worked in for over forty years.
people in the U.S.
century and a quarter
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Thomas Schoonover. Review of Delpar, Helen, Looking South: The Evolution of Latin Americanist Scholarship in the United States, 1850-1975.
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