Victor M. Uribe-Uran, ed. State and Society in Spanish America during the Age of Revolution. Latin American Silhouettes Series: Studies in History and Culture. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2001. xxi + 261 pp. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8420-2874-5; $84.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8420-2873-8.
Reviewed by Lester D. Langley (Emeritus, Department of History, University of Georgia)
Published on H-LatAm (July, 2002)
This collection of articles (most of them by senior historians and one economist) had its provenance in a series of papers on changes and continuities in Spanish America during the Age of Revolution (1750-1850) presented at meetings of the American Historical Association and Latin American Studies Association. The essays are grouped under four broad categories--political economy; elites, state building, and business; gender and family relations; and ideologies, values, and cultural practices. Most of the essays (except for the two on political economy) focus on specific places--New Granada, Chile, Mexico, and Argentina. The editor's introduction provides a brief commentary on the scholarly controversy between those who see the presumably benchmark dates of 1750 and 1850 as a distinct and therefore useful period for marking and explaining the transition between colonial and modern and those who contend that emphasis on the wars of independence as an arbitrary division between the colonial and modern eras may obscure our understanding of critical issues, particularly in social and political history. In his insightful conclusion, Eric Van Young addresses the fundamental debate over whether or not Spanish America can be neatly "fitted in" to this conventional scheme of periodization used so extensively by European and North American scholars by identifying areas of inquiry and alternative ways of looking at Spanish American history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
This book ably explores topics and issues either neglected or marginalized by those historians more interested in reaffirming the colonial/modern divide in Spanish America during the revolutionary age than in looking closely at continuities and explaining their perseverance. Comparing Spanish America's economic development with that of Europe and the United States in the early nineteenth century, the chapter on Spanish America's economic condition (by Samuel Amaral and Richard Doringo) points out the similarities (birth, death, and infant mortality rates and ratio of rural to urban population) as well as the critical differences (the more ethnically diverse population of Spanish America and its paucity of banks, capital markets, and non-metallic currency) and explain their consequences for the new independent states. In an engaging discussion of "Dutch disease"--a term used by economic historians to describe what happens when a boom in exports, particularly in natural resources, leads to a relative decline in "traditional exports," growth in foreign exchange, rising amounts of imports to meet the demand for tradable goods, and increased pressure on labor and capital markets to expand production of non-tradable goods--the economist Richard Salvucci explains the effects of a "destructive" export economy on South America's domestic economy. Using New Granada as a social laboratory, Uribe-Uran explores how honor, status, and class underwent subtle changes from the colonial to the postcolonial era. Marti Lamar delineates the ways by which Chilean merchants persevered in doing business in much the same way as they had in colonial times. Delving into gender and family relations, Sonya Lipset-Rivera and Elizabeth Anne Kuznesoff identify the slow but nonetheless perceptible shifts in Mexican views of women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. At the same time, Kuznesoff points out, the quality of life for women may have improved very little. John Chasteen offers a fascinating example of how a study of social dance in Argentina can help us understand popular culture in the revolutionary years. And Mark Szuchman uses the Argentine urban landscape to explain how the "outdoors" provided opportunities for those who rarely enjoyed influence and became a more dangerous place for those hitherto accustomed to privilege. The city became the venue where politics found expression in discourse and in violence.
Despite its strengths, this book left me wishing for something more. Ordinarily, I dislike those reviews that critique largely by suggesting the author should have written a different kind of book. In this case, I believe, the charge of incompleteness is warranted. The introduction promises an inclusivity not realized; the brilliant and suggestive conclusion, perhaps unintentionally, suggests a number of places and issues left unexplored. As a student of the revolutionary age in the Americas, what I regretted most in this collection was the reluctance of most of the contributors to make comparisons between different places in Spanish America. I concede the importance of emphasizing the particular and of focusing on specific places, but the editor might have asked the contributors to point out in what ways honor and status in New Granada might have resembled or differed from that in Mexico or Argentina or how women in other places in Spanish America may have fared differently from those in Mexico. In a volume on state and society in Spanish America in the age of revolution, the omission of essays on Venezuela and Peru--the former because of the devastating violence of the wars of independence, and the latter for its complex social character--warrants an explanation. These two very different places, after all, provide superb laboratories for measuring continuities and changes in undeniably neglected or obscured topics in those places where revolutionary violence and the complexities of civil conflict reached unprecedented intensity.
These limitations prompt me to question the utility of this collection for the introductory survey in Latin American history, though not for advanced undergraduate courses or perhaps as reading in a graduate course.
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Lester D. Langley. Review of Uribe-Uran, Victor M., ed., State and Society in Spanish America during the Age of Revolution.
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