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Volume 56 / Humanities


19th and 20th Centuries: Chile

WILLIAM F. SATER, Professor of History, California State University, Long Beach

THE WORKS REVIEWED THIS BIENNIUM reflect Chilean historiography's increased interest in a more detailed study of the role of ethnic minorities in the formation of the raza chilena. New material has appeared focusing on different aspects of the lives and contributions of immigrants from Italy, England, Spain, and Germany as well as of Sephardic Jews who settled in Chile. Agosin's lyrical memories of her sometimes traumatic childhood as a Jew surrounded by Nazis in Osorno is a welcome combination of literary and historical insights (item bi 96019814). Similarly, Blancpain's work on the French is a pleasure to read, but, like a good mystery story, it simply ends too soon; with luck he will provide us additional insights by expanding on this slim volume (item bi 95000464).

Economic topics remain a favorite area for research. Spearheaded by a younger generation of historians, such as Luis Ortega (item bi 95000109), Julio Pinto Vallejos (items bi 95001394 and bi 95000454), René Millar, Juan Eduardo Vargas (item bi 95000469), and Ricardo Couyoumdjian, new works dealing with various aspects of industrialization, commerce, mining - particularly the coal industry - and the labor movement, have appeared. Couyoumdjian's Historia de la Bolsa de Comercio de Santiago, 1893-1993 is a tour de force which, while hard reading, is clearly worth the effort (Santiago: Bolsa de Comercio de Santiago, 1993, see HLAS 55:1866). Millars' general economic history for the 1820-1925 period (item bi 96002218) is an extremely well researched and very welcome addition to Chilean historiography, supplanting Fetter's seminal study, Monetary inflation in Chile, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1931). Let us hope Millar will continue along this vein of research and produce a second volume dealing with the post-1925 period.

Political historians are finally turning their eyes to the post-1930 epoch. Barnard (item bi 94006274) and Etchepare (item bi 93025242) concentrated to great effect on the events leading up to the passage of the infamous ley maldita, while Grugel (item bi 93009126) studied the forces that enabled the less-than-brilliant Carlos Ibáñez (his nickname while a cadet at the Escuela Militar was "the Mule") to get elected to a second presidential term. Fermandois' chronicle of the tedious negotiations between US creditors and Chile over Santiago's international debts demonstrates the ability of so-called dependent countries to protect their pocketbook, much to the woe of their creditors (item bi 94167777).

Two particularly worthwhile bibliographical works appeared this year: the volume by Retamal and Villalobos (item bi 95001397) is a marvelous source for anyone seeking information published in Chilean journals on a wide variety of topics. Another essential research tool is Sagredo's updated bibliography included in the second edition of Cariola Sutler's Un siglo de historia económica de Chile, 1830-1930 (item bi 95000451). The breadth of both bibliographical works is extremely comprehensive. All historians should consult these publications as a prelude to serious research.

Local history, which has often been an important area for study, seems to have lost favor among scholars of Chilean history. Still, Martinic's two-volume work on Magallanes is particularly noteworthy, providing a detailed analysis of this southernmost province (item bi 95000442).

The emergence of Chile's educational institutions increasingly has attracted the attention of various scholars. For instance, Sol Serrano's excellent study of the University of Chile traces the development of the nation's preeminent, and for years the sole, provider of college degrees (item bi 95000452). Some historians are investigating institutions or customs, which, for better or worse, reveal the darker side of Chilean society. Camus' article on Santiago's 19th-century mental asylum is particularly interesting (item bi 95001385), while Leon's fascination with cemeteries enlightens, though it does not always elate (item bi 95001390).

It would benefit scholars if more research aids, such as those produced by Retamal, Villalobos, and Sagredo, were published. Nonetheless, the recent publication of books and articles on the post-1925 period, particularly on the 1930s and the 1940s, is opening up new and most welcome vistas. Clearly, the high quality of recent research and the new areas under investigation indicate how singularly vital is Chilean historiography. The founding of new journals, moreover, affords younger scholars additional outlets for their historical discoveries.

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