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Volume 60 / Humanities


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

JOEL HOROWITZ, Professor of History, Saint Bonaventure University
THOMAS WHIGHAM, Professor of History, University of Georgia


ARGENTINE HISTORIOGRAPHY HAS MOVED IN EXCITING DIRECTIONS over the last several years, yielding some high-quality, well-researched analyses of traditional topics and branching out into new areas of study. Though the field of 19th-century Argentine history as a whole remains spotty, often the works being produced are exceptional and will reward the careful reader.

Studies of the gaucho—once a mainstay among Argentine historians—have in recent times given way to more comprehensive, sophisticated, and specialized examinations of rural life in the 19th century. Among the better works to trod this particular ground are those of Gelman (item #bi 99010033#), Johnson (item #bi 98010520#), and especially Amaral (item #bi 98011977#). On a related subject—the figure of the rural boss or caudillo—Goldman and Salvatore have produced an excellent compilation that summarizes and explicates much of the current literature (item #bi 99000519#).

One aspect of the field that bears watching is the historical analysis of folklore and song. In this arena, De la Fuente has paved the way with a groundbreaking, suggestive piece on folkloric characterizations of two of the most infamous Riojano caudillos, Facundo Quiroga and "el Chaco" Peñaloza (item #bi2001000907#).

Biography has returned to favor among Argentine scholars after several years of seeming decline. Traditionally, a plethora of thin hagiographies on José de San Martin and Juan Manuel de Rosas are published, and the current biennium is no exception. Yet new biographies on such unusual figures as Juan José Paso (item #bi 99000535#) and even Evaristo López (item #bi 99000525#) are worthy of mention. Perhaps Duarte has provided the most interesting biographical treatment of all—a solid, sympathetic, and wholly convincing examination of the final years of Ricardo López Jordan (item #bi 99009466#).

Among the most impressive of the works reviewed in this chapter are those which focus on early Argentine nationalism, and specifically, on how the peoples of La Plata defined themselves, participated in the construction of new states, ran elections, and organized a political order that in some sense reflected public opinion. The works of Lettieri (item #bi2001004714#) and Sábato (item #bi 99000538#) stand out as fine examples of this encouraging trend.

Any discussion of Argentine nationalism must necessarily address the historical role of foreign intervention. Thus, diplomatic studies have long held a key place in Argentine historiography. They are especially well-represented in this chapter by an impressive six-volume account by Cisneros and Escude that deals with more than the English invasions of the early 1800s and their effect on porteño trade (item #bi 99009478#). The authors show that diplomacy went beyond the goals and perspectives of the capital city, and involved rival governments and strategies to form an Argentine nationhood based on provincial interests.

Following a path blazed years ago by Braudel and other historians of the Annales chool, Argentine scholars have made several useful forays into the nature of private life (family, social life and customs, fashion, etc.). These works, which include the edited compilation of Devoto and Madero (item #bi2001004725#) and the analytically rich study of Cicerchia (item #bi 99000515#), show great promise. They may serve as catalysts in launching new approaches to historical research.

Demography remains an important focus of Argentine scholarship, most likely due to the large number of immigrants in the country. Two works stand out among many this biennium: Vázquez Rial's study of the convoluted politics of migration (item #bi2001004723#), and Baily's long-awaited comparison of Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires and New York City (item #bi 99009476#).

Several of the more important recent studies defy categorization, save that they illustrate the myriad ways in which Argentines have confronted and adapted to modern life. For instance, Bordi de Ragucci's history of drinking water in Buenos Aires is one of the most creative historical studies to appear of late (item #bi 99000513#), as is Raggini's account of telegraphy during the Sarmiento presidency (item #bi 98009572#). Zaragoza Rovira has written what is likely the definitive work on early Argentine anarchism (item #bi 98009561#), and Fernández has produced a wonderfully evocative, carefully researched study of magic and magicians in Argentina that is a pleasure to read (item #bi 98009557#). [TW]

As is the case throughout the society, the ability to publish works on the history of Argentina since the 1880s has been strongly affected by the recent economic crisis. By 2002, due to the dire economic situation, journal publication has been severely limited and book publication has decreased dramatically. Despite the economic problems, the quality of work remains extremely high, though many Argentines are publishing outside their country. Were it not for the barriers presented by the economic catastrophe, this era could easily be a golden age of Argentine history. Numerous first rate historians are joined by many more who write competent works. It is difficult to believe, however, that the high quality can be sustained over time, given the economic implosion.

The last few years have seen a surge in the writing of political history due to the return to democracy in the 1980s. New works of political history have been transformed by their integration with social and intellectual history. Political failures had helped open the way to the horrific military regime that came to power in 1976, and historians tried to understand what lay behind that failure and to find elements of the political traditions worth saving. Certainly the return to interest in politics in other regions of the world has also had an impact. The maturity of this movement can be seen in Sábato's award winning book on Buenos Aires of the 1870s–80s (item #bi 99000538#) and the work of Alonso on the first decade of the Radical Party (item #bi 00004088#). Both destroy past stereotypes and reveal a political world vastly more complex and nuanced than previous studies indicated. Many recent historical studies emphasize that the political world is integrated in a real way with other parts of the society. For example, Zanatta's important examination of the Catholic Church's ideological project in the years 1943–46, and its relationship with the military, helps explain many aspects of the military regime which then controlled Argentina (item #bi2003005820#). Halperín Donghi, in a contribution to his edited series of primary sources with extensive introductions, provides an insightful picture of the Radical years (item #bi 99006452#).

Complementing these scholarly works are those intended for popular audiences. Although frequently lacking the necessary apparatus, such as footnotes and sources, to check assertions, the works do contribute to the base of knowledge and can be entertaining. One good example is Seoane's biography of José Ber Gelbard (item #bi 00004226#), which tells us a great deal about the man, one of the most intriguing and mysterious figures of modern Argentina. Academic historians have also produced popular works. Particularly noteworthy are the popular short biographies of Carlos Pellegrini by Gallo (item #bi 99006325#) and Marcelo T. de Alvear by Cattaruzza (item #bi 99006411#).

A sign of the increasing competency among historians is the growing number of works written in and about the provinces. While problems with the circulation of some of these works exist, the new focus represents an important shift away from the Buenos Aires-centered works produced in the capital. For too long, the historiography has reflected events in the capital and has failed to show the very different life of the provinces, especially those away from the pampas. An example of the kind of history which, if it continues, should eventually transform that vision are the numerous works being done on Neuquén (e.g., items #bi2002003774#, #bi 98012497#, and #bi2001004930#). Equally important and interesting work is also been done elsewhere throughout the provinces.

Not surprisingly, work is also being done on the city of Buenos Aires. Two important books look at the nature of the city and its physical and intellectual world (items #bi 00003030# and #bi 00004241#). Important studies at the level of the barrio have also been published (items #bi 98001544# and #bi 98012495#).

As in past years, much has been written about immigration. This continuation reflects both the growing interest in so-called hyphenated identity, as well as the considerable influence of international scholarly trends. A superb book, Moya's work on Spanish immigration to Buenos Aires, has set new standards for immigration studies in several ways (item #bi 98003342#). Its focus on the conditions and regional differences in the sending country is a crucial nuance, as is his ability to examine social mobility and adjustments to the receiving society. Also important is Moya's continual movement from the micro level of several individuals or small groups to the macro level of generalization. This study of the so-called invisible immigrants has restored them to the place in history that they deserve. In addition, many competent smaller scale works have been published. As usual, many popular works on immigration, some written to commemorate communities and/or ethnic organizations, have appeared. Although frequently filiopietistic, the best of them make important contributions to overall knowledge.

Recent attempts to identify both nations that aided Germany economically during World War II and the locations of perpetrators of the horrors who fled have had an impact on Argentine scholarship. Motivated by promises to open government archives as well as the creation of a commission to study Argentina's role as a haven for war criminals and Axis money, scholars have begun to publish a series of studies on the topic, and more will undoubtedly appear in future years. While research findings to date have not produced sensational revelations, they have dispelled some of the myths produced by politicians, propaganda, and Hollywood. Solid studies debate the existence of sizeable in-flows of money from German-occupied Europe (items #bi 00006846# and #bi 00006844#), and continue to uncover information about how those seeking to avoid the Allies at the war's conclusion came to Argentina (items #bi 00006847#, #bi 00003005#, and #bi 00006848#). Nevertheless, much more remains to be discovered.

The writing on the rural economy of the Pampas has apparently slowed, and no overview exists to pull together the many small-scale studies of land tenure and settlement. One important publication on this topic is Hora's study of the creation of the estanciero class in Buenos Aires province (item #bi2003005571#). It is not so much an economic study, but rather a social, intellectual, and political examination of the rise and fall of a dominant class.

Numerous publications continue to appear that address the traumas of the 1960s–70s. Much of the work has been in the form of participant memoirs or popular histories, and many are important sources. Together, they begin to fill in the gaps of our knowledge, especially helping to establish the mentalité of the period (e.g., items #bi2001004992#, #bi 00004238#, and #bi 00004227#).

Labor history continues as an important research area. Several works stand out and epitomize some dominant trends as labor history moves beyond merely an examination of trade unions. Suriano provides an excellent history of the cultural world created by anarchists in the period between 1880–1914 (item #bi2002003585#). Lobato's innovative, important community study discusses the meat-packing industrial town of Berisso (item #bi2002003755#). Iùigo Carrera impressively examines a 1936 general strike in Buenos Aires and attempts to draw larger conclusions (item #bi2002003799#). McGuire's important book focuses on the relationship between Peronist unions and politics, especially in the 1960s–80s (item #bi 99006310#). In addition, James' new work, while not readily classified as labor history, is of note (item #bi2003005572#). It is both a life history of a union and political activist from Berisso and a meditation on the use of sources.

Intellectual history has undergone a great deal of change in recent years as the lines between it and other subfields of history have become increasingly blurred. On this topic, two authors in particular stand out this biennium. Saítta contributes an excellent study of the best selling newspaper of the 1920s, Crítica, which had a major political and cultural impact (item #bi2003005817#). She also produced a biography of the novelist Roberto Arlt, placing him in the changing society in which he wrote (item #bi2001004926#). Plotkin delivers two studies on the development of psychoanalysis in Argentina and how it became a part of everyday life (items #bi2003005579# and #bi 99008280#). The importance of the latter lies in what they show about the nature of Argentine society.

One curious phenomenon is the almost simultaneous publication of three multivolume histories of Argentina. The one written by Luna, the popular historian, is similar in orientation to his other writings (item #bi 99006306#). The other two are massive collective histories that demonstrate well the progress that has been made in recent decades in studying Argentina's past. Both include contributions from some of the country's best historians. The volumes compiled by the Academia Nacional de la Historia, while up-to-date, are much more traditional in their approach (item #bi2001004947#). The third set, published by Sudamericana and coordinated by Suriano, is much more attuned to the latest trends in history in the topics it covers (items #bi2003005575#, #bi2001004932#, #bi2003005576#, #bi2003005577#, and #bi2003005578#).

Overall the quality of historical production remains very high. It is difficult to be sanguine about the future, not only because of the economic problems facing the publishing industry, but more importantly, because of the problems facing the writers of history. [JH]


In recent years, Paraguayan historiography has made some significant advances. For the late Bourbon and early national periods, for instance, considerable attention has been given to the rarely studied northern frontier, especially in articles by Areces on ranching (item #bi 98003755#) and indigenous-white relations (item #bi 99002054#), and by Cooney on the yerba industry (item #bi 98010518#).

The Francia era (1814–40) has received comparatively less emphasis than in years past, though an excellent essay by Cooney on the Afro-Paraguayans should not be missed (item #bi 98010129#), nor should Vázquez's perceptive biography of Vicente Antonio Matiauda (item #bi2001004717#).

Brezzo has produced a useful and extensively detailed account of Argentine-Paraguayan relations in the 1850s (item #bi 98006206#). Sadly, it stands almost alone among new works on the Carlos Antonio López era (1844–62).

Not surprisingly, given its overall importance in Paraguayan historiography, the Triple Alliance War of 1864–70 has engendered more scholarly investigations than other 19th-century themes. Brezzo, for example, contributes a useful account of life in Asunción under Allied occupation (item #bi 00002516#), while Moby Ribeiro da Silva dissects social gatherings and dances in the same urban environment, concluding that more was happening than met the average observer's eye (item #bi 00003932#).

Several memoirs of participants in the Great War—always a favorite among scholars and casual readers alike—have been published recently, including the accounts of three members of the Argentine Army's medical corps (item #bi2001004720#) and a new and much-welcomed Spanish translation of Burton's Letters from the Battle-fields of Paraguay, Cartas desde los campos de batalla del Paraguay (item #bi2001001361#). The most attractive new work on this crucial period comes from the late Argentine photohistorian Cuarterolo, who has assembled an array of images from the conflict, many never previously seen, and has provided erudite commentary both on the technical aspects of early photography and on the complexities of the war itself (item #bi2001004702#).

The period between the end of the Paraguayan War (1870) and the beginning of the Chaco War with Bolivia (1932) has failed to receive consistent attention from historians, though exceptions exist, even in the latest biennium. Heyn has produced a multivolume account of the Salesian Order's work in Paraguay (items #bi 98009633#, #bi 98009636#, #bi 98009637#, #bi 98009632#, #bi 98009635#, and #bi 98009634#); and Baratti and Candolfi's eye-catching biography of the Swiss naturalist Moises Bertoni gives the pursuit of scientific knowledge in Paraguay its proper historical due (item #bi2001000717#). [TW]

The writing on the history of Paraguay since 1880 remains scarce and traditional. Political partisans continue to write history from the point of view of their party, and the Chaco War continues as a topic of examination. Pieces on the Stroessner period have finally begun to emerge, giving hope that a widening of subjects will occur. Two works argue that Stroessner's use of culture and ideology were important in maintaining his hold on society (items #bi 00004244# and #bi 97012710#). Lastly, Fogel offers an interesting look at the effect of ecological degradation on the inhabitants of the region of Ñeembucú (item #bi2001004933#). [JH]


Though progress in 19th-century Paraguayan historiography has been steady if somewhat limited in recent years, in Uruguay the situation has been less fruitful. Predictably, several standard accounts of the life of Artigas have appeared, but only the short works of González Rissotto (item #bi 98003482#) and Vázquez Franco (item #bi 99004071#) display even a glimmer of innovation.

Pelfort's study on Afro-Uruguayans (item #bi 98009598#) is a useful contribution. Yet the real triumph to come out of Uruguay of late is Barán's history of medicine, which offers many shrewd insights and interpretations (item #bi 99000542#). [TW]

Scholarly writing on Uruguay since 1880, which in recent decades has been excellent, is much less in evidence this biennium. In all probability, this decline reflects the economic problems that beset the country. Balbis has produced an important series of data on land prices and rents (item #bi 98011080#). Some works look at how history is used in politics and how the military dictatorship of the 1970s changed the writing of history (items #bi 00003564# and #bi 98000120#).

Immigration, the 1930s, and the problems of the 1960s–70s dominate much of the other writing. One work that any scholar working on independent Uruguay should find extremely useful is an updated historical chronology covering events from 1830–1985 (item #bi 00002986#). [JH]

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