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Volume 56 / Humanities


19th and 20th Centuries: Bolivia

ERICK D. LANGER, Associate Professor of History, Carnegie Mellon University

BOLIVIAN HISTORY HAS ACHIEVED a greater level of maturity with the appearance on the scene of a number of well-trained younger scholars. Local and regional history has benefited from this trend (items bi 96003306, bi 96003275, and bi 96003277), and more established scholars have also continued to contribute (items bi 94008037 and bi 96007068). Cochabamba has always merited special attention (items bi 96010879, bi 96010892, bi 96003274, and bi 96003276). There is a new research emphasis on the long-neglected eastern lowlands (items bi 94007057 and bi 96003274), including a compendium of articles on the Chiriguanos, an important indigenous group (item bi 96012376). The new generation of scholars, often with close ties to the countryside around La Paz, has also focused on the highland indigenous peoples in a series of valuable studies (items bi 96010900, bi 96108099, bi 94011787, and bi 96010895). The elite view of the highland indigenous peoples has also received some attention from intellectual historians (items bi 94007477 and bi 96003299).

Less attention has been paid to the independence wars. Just's exhaustive study on the early independence movement in Chuquisaca (item bi 96010896) and Arnade's retrospective essay provide new views (item bi 96012321). Fortunately, the first 50 years after independence is finally receiving its due. Major studies of debt in the early republican period (item bi 96010894), of the frontier policies of President José Ballivián (item bi 94007050), and the conception of liberal discourse in southern mining towns (item bi 96012379) are providing new insights to this understudied period. Publication of Melchor María Mercado's naive paintings (item bi 94007042) and of an 1830s essay on the economic state of the country at that time, with a series of recent scholarly analyses on the essay, also advance our knowledge for this period (item bi 96012318).

Bolivia's economy during most of its history has depended upon mining, and a number of new studies fill important gaps in the literature on this topic (e.g., item bi 96012383). Silver mining has been largely neglected, except for one polemical work on the entrepreneurs in the Atacama desert (item bi 96003277). Tin mining, however, including its technological aspects (items bi 96003308 and bi 96012375) is finally receiving the proper attention from a host of scholars (items bi 96003278, bi 96010898, and bi 96010893). Another study examines mining from the perspective of labor from the 19th century onward (item bi 96010862).

A relatively new field in the historiography of Bolivia is that of the Catholic Church and its missions in the republican period. While general histories remain sketchy (item bi 94007053), the study of the Franciscan missions in the southeastern section of the country has received considerable attention, in analytic studies (items bi 94012357 and bi 94006299) as well as in a reprint of a classic 19th-century treatise by Corrado (item bi 94007058). In addition, one author examines the role of the Catholic Church as a political force in the late-20th century (item bi 94009888).

As always, 20th-century political history is alive and well. For the era prior to the Chaco War, both the Republican Party (item bi 94003278) and the Socialists (item bi 96003304) receive their due. Gallego Margaleff covers extensively the "military socialism" of the post-Chaco-War military regimes of the 1930s (items bi 94005784, bi 94007065, and bi 94007064), while the leftist leader José Arze is the subject of another important biography (items bi 94007047). The Che Guevara guerrilla episode in the late 1960s continues to fascinate (items bi 96003305 and bi 94007059), but more recent events, such as the Popular Assembly period in 1970 (item bi 94007062) and the formation of the leftist Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR) are finally deemed worthy of attention (item bi 94007049).

Herbert Klein has provided us with two excellent overviews of Bolivian history; one, a revised edition of his general history (item bi 94007051), and the other, a review of recent works (item bi 94007051). In addition, the Anuario, a new periodical published out of Sucre by the Archivo y Biblioteca Nacionales de Bolivia, provides reviews and historiographic essays, further indicating the vitality of historical research in Bolivia.

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