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Volume 56 / Humanities

HISTORY: CENTRAL AMERICA


STEPHEN WEBRE, Professor of History, Louisiana Tech University
DAVID MCCREERY, Professor of History, Georgia State University


SCHOLARLY OUTPUT IN CENTRAL AMERICAN history continues to grow and improve, in quantity and quality, with significant advances in selected areas. The impact of 1992's Columbus Quincentenary continues to be felt, most notably in the appearance of two monumental syntheses, the Historia general de Centroamérica (item bi 96012406) and the Historia general de Guatemala (item bi 95002563). Collaborative efforts by recognized specialists of various nationalities, these multi-volume works provide impressive evidence of the field's developing maturity and sophistication. There remains, of course, much to be done, and many important topics and even countries continue to be neglected.

For the colonial period, the critical bibliography compiled by W. George Lovell and Christopher H. Lutz (item bi 95001270) reveals the substantial progress made in demographic history in recent years. Significant new studies on colonial Guatemala include Lutz's own social and demographic study of Santiago de Guatemala (item bi 95002564) and Wendy Kramer's long-awaited analysis of the early encomienda (item bi 95014226). Our understanding of Guatemalan trade patterns and practices, both regional and imperial, is enhanced by Richmond F. Brown's study of powerful 18th-century merchant Juan Fermín de Aycinena (item bi 95018602) and José Antonio Fernández Molina's essay on the impact of the Salvadoran indigo boom on basic grain production and markets in the Maya highlands (item bi 94007314). There are works of comparable significance for Panama by Christopher Ward (item bi 96012426) and Alfredo Castillero Calvo (item bi 94008900). Colonial El Salvador, virtually ignored in the past, receives long-overdue attention in studies by Pedro Escalante Arce (item bi 94012156) and William R. Fowler (item bi 93012633).

Guatemala is the subject of a number of important new studies dealing with the national period. For the 19th century, these include major studies by Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., on conservative caudillo Rafael Carrera (item bi 94012821) and David McCreery on rural life (item bi 96012407). The 1944-54 revolutionary period also continues to attract scholars. A major event is the publication of Francisco Villagrán Kramer's Biografía política (item bi 94012757), which prompted an immediate angry denial by Carlos Pellecer (item bi 94012779). Jim Handy has produced what may be the definitive study of the 1952-54 land reform (item bi 94012823).

Students of Nicaragua continue to focus on the 20th century and especially on Augusto C. Sandino and the Somoza dynasty. Knut Walter (item bi 96012437) shows Anastasio Somoza García's role in constructing the Nicaraguan State, while Jeffrey Gould (item bi 94002740) sets his regime in its Cold War context. The fall and subsequent assassination of Anastasio Somoza Debayle are the topics of new studies by former US ambassador to Nicaragua Lawrence Pezzullo (item bi 94012755) and by Claribel Alegría and D. J. Flakoll (item bi 94012763), respectively. Historians have yet to grapple seriously with the FSLN's unexpected electoral defeat and fall from power in 1990. Indeed, the excellent book on the Sandinista era by María Molero (item bi 94012829) evidences no premonition of the impending collapse, and Laura J. Enríquez (item bi 96012433) portrays the bourgeoisie as coming apart rather than coalescing into a coherent opposition. Harry E. Vanden and Gary Prevost (item bi 96012436), however, properly remind us of the implacable US determination to destroy the Nicaraguan economy while forcing an unaccustomed unity upon the opposition. Scholars of the Sandinista period will welcome two important collections of primary documents (items bi 94012806 and bi 95000656).

Interest in women's experiences appears to be growing, especially in Costa Rica. Macarena Barahona (item bi 95002784) looks at the struggle for civil rights for women, while Juan José Marín (item bi 94015804) analyzes official discourse on prostitution in 1940s San José. Virginia Mora (item bi 95001376) surveys female labor in turn-of-the-century San José, a subject which Ana Lorena Carrillo also examines for Guatemala with a study of a 1925 strike by women coffee sorters (item bi 95001377). For Nicaragua, Anna Fernández (item bi 94010099) criticizes all sides for neglecting poor women's problems during the post-1979 Sandinista period.

Labor and agrarian studies continue to appear. For Honduras, works by Mario Argueta (item bi 94012792), Marvin Barahona (item bi 96012559), and Mario Posas (item bi 94012790) contribute to our knowledge of worker organization and especially the 1954 banana strike. Early stirrings of worker consciousness in Costa Rica are treated in new works by Víctor Hugo Acuña Ortega (item bi 94015240) and Carlos Hernández Rodríguez (item bi 94015801), while Deborah Levenson-Estrada (item bi 96012429) chronicles the courageous efforts of Guatemalan workers to organize and strike. Apart from studies by David McCreery on Guatemala (item bi 96012407) and Leticia Oyuela on Honduras (item bi 96012767), research on Costa Rica continues to dominate rural history, as evidenced by the recent contributions of Marc Edelman and Mitchell A. Seligson (item bi 94011831), Lowell Gudmundson (item bi 95008303), Ivan Molina Jiménez (item bi 94009853), and Mario Samper Kutschbach (item bi 94015805).

Finally, the activities of foreigners - adventurers, entrepreneurs, immigrants - are the subjects of several new works. In a lively narrative, Lester D. Langley and Thomas D. Schoonover tell tales of some of the more colorful individuals associated with the fruit companies (item bi 95010219). In his book on State-company relations in Guatemala (item bi 96012427), Paul J. Dosal treats the United Fruit Company critically, if somewhat sympathetically, while Diane K. Stanley offers a more positive appraisal of UFCO as a tropical pioneer (item bi 95002782). Only Ana Luisa Cerdas (item bi 94015715) reminds us of the company's less attractive side.

New works by Nancie L. González (item bi 96012428) and Darío Euraque (item bi 96012895) shed light on the little-studied question of Palestinian immigration to Honduras, while Mario Argueta (item bi 94012789) examines the German presence in that country. The German entrepreneurs who helped build the coffee industry in Guatemala's Alta Verapaz continue to inspire research as well. Stefan Karlen (item bi 95008972) discusses their economic and political interests, while Ricardo Terga (item bi 94012831) traces the impact on the local native population of the German immigrants' extramarital procreative urges.


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