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Volume 56 / Humanities

HISTORY: SPANISH SOUTH AMERICA


19th and 20th Centuries: Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay

JOSEPH T. CRISCENTI, Professor Emeritus of History, Boston College
JOEL HOROWITZ, Associate Professor of History, Saint Bonaventure University


AS IN PAST REPORTING PERIODS, the historical writings annotated for this volume of the Handbook focus more on the post-1880 years than on the earlier decades. Furthermore, unlike in previous years, this biennium includes a considerable amount of writing on the period after 1930, much of it designed for popular audiences. Women historians, primarily from Argentina, have been very active, but foreign scholars are less evident than before. Argentine economic historians and demographers studying the pre-1880 years, often working with incomplete data, are revealing previously ignored or overlooked facets of the economic and social reality of the region.

The historical writings reviewed here on 19th-century Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay have several characteristics in common. They challenge the so-called official history of each country; they study the slow process whereby one colonial institution and then another was replaced by modern institutions; and they examine the various adjustments that were made as the region was integrated into the world economy. There is an awareness that the political and military leaders of the independence movement were products of a society in which two outlooks, colonial and modern, coexisted. The existence of a colonial outlook helps to explain the continuing debate over whether the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata became the Argentine nation in 1810, and whether Artigas assumed that Uruguay eventually would become a part of that nation. For Uruguayans, the issues have always been whether the republic was created by the natives or Great Britain, and whether a small state can financially survive. The colonial frame of reference also accounts for the ease with which contemporaries served Hispanic American countries other than their own, for national distinctions had not yet appeared. Gandia has described the unhitching of Spanish politics from Río de la Plata politics, and the converting of a civil war into a war for independence (item bi 93002310). While colonial customs and outlooks lingered into the 20th century in the Interior, in the port cities the transition to a modern outlook was encouraged by elites under the influence of French culture ca. 1840 and by the rising influx of European immigrants there.

Nevertheless, the tension between colonial and modern outlooks persisted throughout most of the 19th century, for the modernization of political institutions and the economy proceeded slowly. The literary figures who labored for modernization - Bartolomé Mitre, Vicente Fidel López, Domingo F Sarmiento, for example - justified their political conduct and criticized their Argentine, Paraguayan, and Uruguayan enemies when they wrote the first historical accounts of the period. A later generation of scholars, as some of the works annotated below indicate, has worked assiduously in the national and provincial archives, rehabilitating many of the people who were misrepresented in earlier histories. Many scholars have also called attention to the important contributions made by the graduates of the Colegio del Uruguay in Entre Ríos, among them Gen. Julio A Roca.

Currently, scholars tend to see the military caudillo as a popular leader, rather than as the authoritarian or despotic figure portrayed by earlier historians. In the province of Facundo Quiroga, they note, the cabildo abierto of elected representatives and the military caudillo appeared alongside a functioning government during the war for independence, and the military caudillo observed the law and the rights of the people (item bi 95001860). The cabildo abierto eventually gave way to a legislative body, and the military caudillo disappeared by 1880. In the province of Córdoba, the fate of the military caudillo was determined when the regional commercial class entered politics. Although historians presently doubt that the military caudillo obstructed nation-building, they do believe that President Bartolomé Mitre employed foreign military officers to impose on the country the political organization that he favored. After the Paraguayan War, there began in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay a gradual transition from military to civilian government.

The aims of Brazilian foreign policy in the Río de la Plata after the overthrow of Rosas are also receiving renewed attention. Paraguayan appreciation of Brazil has increased with the realization that the Baron de Caxias and Brazilian troops opposed having Bartolomé Mitre, an enemy, as their general during the Paraguayan War. Some Argentines, believing that Brazil wanted to dominate the Argentine provinces after the fall of Rosas, are trying to establish whether Brazil played a role in the Entre Ríos revolutions of the 1870s. Other scholars are assessing the importance of the competition between Peninsular and Creole merchants in the Interior Provinces, and their inter- and intra-provincial activities, in an attempt to determine the level of prosperity that existed in the Interior Provinces after 1810.

With the steady influx of immigrants and economic growth, both society and the economy gradually modernized. Construction industries in Buenos Aires and Montevideo were kept busy by the arrival of immigrants in need of housing and by the demand of the new urban elite for modern structures. In works on the pre-1880 period, immigrants who settled in the city of Buenos Aires have received more attention than those who spread out into the province of Buenos Aires and Patagonia and blended with the existing populations to form new societies. As immigrants entering Argentina tended to avoid the northwestern provinces, criollo society managed to survive there into the 20th century. Buenos Aires and Montevideo were not, however, the final destinations of all immigrants.

Since the 1960s, Argentine scholars have devoted increased attention to immigrant groups and settlements south of Buenos Aires, with impressive results. A number of microhistories of estancias and pueblos are annotated below. Noteworthy in these histories are the descriptions of collaboration between the Creoles, immigrants, and Christian and non-Christian Indians as they adapted to changes in the export cycle, the reactions of different estancia owners to new market demands, and the appearance of a distinct labor market in each region. The failure of immigrants to lose their ethnic identities and become citizens led to the writing of textbooks, primarily used in Buenos Aires, that sought to defend criollo culture, create national feelings, and build sympathy for the military. The overall aim of this education was the creation of "good citizens;" it was not until about 1879 that an exaggerated nationalism appeared. Nevertheless, gaps in the literature of immigration do remain. The history of ethnic groups and the mixing of races in Uruguay, for example, remains largely unwritten. Other less studied topics include early rural labor conflicts, especially in the littoral. Also lightly touched upon is the hispanization of indigenous peoples that took place throughout the country, and the survival into the 20th century of indigenous pueblos with "rights." The rights of some colonies in the province of Santa Fe are likewise poorly understood.

Economic progress was not uniform throughout the region. The province of Santa Fe presumably lost its economic independence and became dependent on Buenos Aires during the Rosas period. The degree of industrialization that took place in Paraguay prior to 1864 is still contested; the available quantitative data does not permit a definitive answer. Everywhere rural inhabitants were reluctant to abandon their agricultural pursuits or to accept a national currency: in some areas, the barter system continued to exist late into the 19th century. Research has confirmed the existence of small farmers, using family labor, for most of the century. On the southern frontier of the province of Buenos Aires small farmers were seemingly not anxious to acquire more lands than they could cultivate nor to secure titles to their lands. They coexisted with large landowners, a minority group consisting mostly of Frenchmen and Spaniards, and often supported the same policies.

Demographers working with 19th-century sources that are unreliable or not entirely satisfying have been able to reach interesting, though often tentative, conclusions for particular geographical regions and towns. Until recently, demographic studies based on census data emphasized the size of a community, and the composition, occupations, and ages of its people, with little attention paid to marriages, perhaps because priests were not always available to perform and record religious marriages, and civil marriages were not instituted until after 1860. Some censuses do reveal how men outside the city of Buenos Aires viewed themselves: in the poor province of Corrientes they said they were aristocrats, members of a familia decente, or members of a pueblo; in Tandil, men characterized themselves as artisans. The censuses are evidently silent on the means of support available to women in regions where they outnumbered the men. In Uruguay, according to one scholar, there are different interpretations of the roles of the women who found themselves in these circumstances. Although many immigrants were unwilling until 1906 to identify their nationality, demographers have been able to establish the movement of immigrants beyond the city of Buenos Aires, the rapidity with which they adopted local marriage customs, and their rise to dominance in various communities. Numerous records also indicate when the debt laws and the papeleta requirement were not enforced. [JTC]

Publishing on post-1880 Argentina has followed many of the same patterns as those established in earlier periods. The more than ten years since the restoration of democracy have permitted a flourishing of the historical profession in Argentina. An avalanche of good, solid, and occasionally excellent work has been written. However, the decline of the publishing industry, among other factors, has meant that much of the best work is in article or short book form, with a scarcity of longer monographs. Many longer works are intended for the popular market and deal with events of the most recent decades, which, while useful, are frequently not what a professional historian would desire. The preponderance of articles places a serious burden on the researcher, due to the sporadic publication and limited circulation of many of these journals. When journals can be located, however, readers are exposed to a multiplicity of fine studies, demonstrating the tremendous progress of Argentine historiography in the last decade.

Compared to work produced during the past several bienniums, there has been an increasing concentration on the years after 1930. This reflects, in part, the reaction to changes inside Argentine society. For example, the shedding of the economic legacies of the post-1943 governments has led to an attempt to rehabilitate the neo-conservative governments of the 1930s. Intended for large audiences, these works paint sympathetic portraits. Fraga's biography of Gen. Agustín P. Justo is paradigmatic of this trend (see HLAS 54:2962). Similarly, the authors' attitudes can be summed up by the title of the book by Aguinaga and Azaretto, Ni década, ni infame: del '30 al '43 (item bi 94007608). We can expect to see much more work on the 1930s now that Fraga has had the Uriburu and Justo papers at the National Archive organized and cataloged, making these papers undoubtedly the most accessible segment of that archive's vast holdings (item bi 94007672). Privitellio's excellent discussion of political mobilization for Justo in the city of Buenos Aires in 1931 gives us an indication of the type of research that is now possible (item bi 95004971).

Several other trends have surfaced. While the provinces and rural areas have received more attention in the literature, several extremely interesting studies of Buenos Aires have increased our knowledge of its physical nature, as well as its politics. Gutman and Hardoy have written an excellent study of the physical evolution of Buenos Aires, with an emphasis on the period after 1880 (item bi 94007699). Walter has written what, in a sense, is a continuation of James Scobie's classical study of the city, but with much more emphasis on the political sphere (item bi 94000070). Our knowledge of porteño material culture during the 18th and 19th centuries has been greatly improved by Schávelzon's report on a five-year archaeological project to excavate 17 sites in the city (item bi 94007724). Still, the number of studies on the rural economy, immigration, and even labor unrest outside of the capital marks a decided decentralization of historiographical work. In part this reflects the improving quality of the universities outside Buenos Aires, but also a growing realization of the importance of the rest of the nation.

The burgeoning studies of immigration continue to widen and deepen. Much recent work has turned its gaze beyond Buenos Aires, with some attention paid to the regions beyond the pampas. Many are microstudies, a primary component of which has been the examination of mutual aid associations. These studies reveal a great deal about the nature of immigrant communities, but as Devoto argues in the book that he edited with Míguez, if these studies are going to continue to be useful, they will have to ask new types of questions (item bi 94000703). New sources are also important. The opening of the Foreign Ministry archives has permitted Klich to present an important vision of the place of Syro-Lebanese in Argentina through the largely aborted attempts of the Ottoman Empire to defend them (item bi 94006544). There has been, as well, a series of popular or commemorative volumes that present interesting information, especially photographs (items bi 94007587, bi 94007569, bi 94007573, and bi 94003423). One study particularly worth noting is that of Jarach and Smolensky on some two thousand Italian Jews who fled to Argentina between 1938-42 (item bi 94007651). The authors, who participated in this migration, have included fascinating transcripts of the interviews upon which much of the book is based.

Labor and working class history also constitutes a significant area of research. It is the one area in which English language works dominate. Here too the emphasis is on the post-1930 period, with much more attention being paid to regions away from Buenos Aires. These works should begin to force generalizations based on Buenos Aires-centered research to be refined or placed in a wider context. For example, Pastoriza has presented a study of the labor movement in Mar del Plata during the 1930s-40s (item bi 95003507). Furthermore, Brennan has written a pathbreaking book on Córdoba during the 1950s-1970s that focuses on automobile and light and power workers, in which he argues that the work process helped dictate the path taken by labor (item bi 96012892). This study, which also gives us an excellent picture of the cordobazo, should prevent future works on labor in this period from using the earlier Buenos Aires-centered approach. James produced an excellent study examining the cementing of ties between peronism and the working class from 1955-73 (item bi 94007733). Raising the discussion of populism to a new level, this work will be at the center of all discussions on the period for years come. Previous studies of strife on the pampas focused on tenant farmers, but Ansaldi has now edited a series of investigations of unrest among rural workers that rocked the pampas in the first four decades of this century (item bi 92001533). Official histories of the left written from the perspective of dissenting leftist groups give readers a different perspective on events (item bi 92013813).

While our vision of rural social structures on the pampas during the late-colonial period has undergone a complete revolution, less change has occurred in our understanding of this area in the 20th century. Still, a number of studies of specific localities and estancias continue to show that land-use and tenancy patterns were extremely complex, and that the stereotypes developed several decades ago of the rootless and constantly moving tenant farmers are far too simple. While much of the writing is at the micro level, Adelman has produced a study comparing credit availability among grain producers in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Buenos Aires (item bi 94001730), and Moreyra has written a large-scale, thorough monograph on rural production in Córdoba (item bi 95003431).

Remarkably little writing has focused on political history between 1880-1930, even when one accepts a very wide definition of "political." There are exceptions, some noted above, and here, too, attention has turned to areas beyond the capital (item bi 96012891). The majority of the political work is on the period after 1945. There are two especially noteworthy studies of the peronist era. Bitrán has written a detailed study of the Congress on Productivity, called by the first peronist government, in which he argues that the congress was an important step in creating a multi-class coalition as the balance tipped against the workers (bi 95003435). Plotkin published a pathbreaking book that explores how the peronist State attempted to create a new culture for Argentina (item bi 96012889). This same work provides the fullest picture yet of the Eva Perón Foundation.

The desire to explore the long agony of Argentina's decline under Perón has produced considerable writing, primarily explorations of fragments of reality written with a large audience in mind. There is a predominance of biography, autobiography, and collections of documents. Most examine the attempts of Argentine society to adjust to the conditions created after the fall of Perón in 1955 and the turmoil this produced. There are also official histories of two presidents of the 1960s. Of particular interest is Graham-Yool's compilation of information on that period (item bi 94007710), including a detailed chronology from 1955 to March 1976 and a list of political deaths for 1975, and Anzorena's collection of personal accounts of the formation of the Juventud Peronista (item bi 94007639). The only real attempts to tie this era together are Halperín Donghi's short but intriguing essay (item bi 96012890), and Romero's interesting and worthwhile overview of the years between Yrigoyen and Menem (item bi 94016050).

The level of writing on modern Argentine history is extremely high. Many studies have focused on small, defined topics, and have been much more oriented to the provinces than in previous reporting periods. Both are welcome trends. Political history of all types has become less important. As in the historiography of many regions of the world, there is a need to unite some of the emerging trends and produce new paradigms, if only to start questioning once again the value of received wisdom.

The writing on post-1880 Paraguay is still very sparse and frequently traditional, concentrating on the Chaco War and institutions, or defending party politics. There are several important exceptions. Rivarola has produced an excellent examination, based on a French dissertation, of the formation of the Paraguayan working class and the creation of a labor movement between 1870 and 1931 (item bi 94003438), taking us a crucial step further in labor studies. Caballero Aquino has aided the study of recent history by putting together a moving collection of oral histories of women opposed to the Stroessner regime (item bi 94007603). Writing in English, Lewis has produced an important revisionist political history for the years between 1869 and 1940 based on the personal data of 950 individuals (item bi 94007736).

The historical writing on Uruguay for the period after 1880 is extremely professional and, unlike the writing on Argentina, it is found in books. Three major themes appear to have dominated during the past two years. First, there has been an interest in Uruguayan historiography. Ribeiro (item bi 94007606), Soler (item bi 95003501), and Torres Wilson (item bi 94007717) all produced balanced, but very different, examinations of the trends and tendencies in the recent writing of Uruguayan history. Also emerging is a sophisticated picture of the interconnectiveness between the economy and the political system. Caetano examines how economic pressure groups came to be a crucial force within political parties between 1916-30 (item bi 94003458). Rilla looks at Batlle's tax reform policies and the opposition that they produced (item bi 94007611). Jacob (item bi 95005727) and Labraga (item bi 94007723) studied different aspects of the economy and their relationship with the State. Third, there has been considerable interest in the working class, especially in terms of anarchist tendencies and the parties of the left. Uruguayan historians have been very conscious of historical work on the other bank of the Río de la Plata, while their counterparts across the river have not, with the principal exception being the collection edited by Devoto and Ferrari (item bi 96012891). [JH]


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