David Patrick McKenzie

Digital Public Historian

Category: Hist 804 – Latin America & the World Minor Field

LatAm Readings: Hegemony and Dependency


The journey is almost done!

Because many of the readings this semester have addressed dependency theory and Antonio Gramsci’s concepts of hegemony (in addition to world systems theory, which we read earlier in the semester), this week’s readings to close out the semester went to the sources of these concepts themselves.

Books read

Cardoso, Fernando Henrique, and Enzo Faletto. Dependency and Development in Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

In a seminal, vastly influential work, Cardoso (who later served two terms as president of Brazil) and Falleto lay out their reading of the history of economic, social, and political development in Latin America, looking at class formation in particular countries, arguing that the economic–and related social and political–options that each country faced was rooted in its place in the global economy. For them, this is the overarching–or underlying–scheme of Latin American history since independence: the deep story (the longue duree?). They specifically formulated this theory as a counterbalance to modernization theory, which suggested that countries passed through set stages of development, as if each country progresses in a vacuum and not tied to a broader global system.

Gramsci, Antonio, Quintin Hoare, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. Selections From the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: International Publishers, 1972.

Based on section 3 of this syllabus from a course on Gramsci, I read pages 206-76 of Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Additionally, I checked the index for references to hegemony, and read some of those portions as well. These selections covered a wide range of topics–some of them very specific in time and place, others very broad. This was definitely a reading through which I struggled–and which I’d like to unpack some more, particularly in light of the other readings for the course. Admittedly I’m having a hard time even summarizing this section! Largely, this section discusses the state and societies–not one and the same.

Bringing it all together: Discussion questions

Relationship of hegemony, dependency theory, and world systems theory

As I read both of these books, in relation to the others from the semester, I was thinking about the relationship among the concept of hegemony (can we call it a theory), dependency theory, and world systems theory. As I can discern so far (and will look forward to discussing on Thursday), here are some comparisons:

The obvious point: All three are based on a Marxian reading of history–that is, at its base, a view placing economic relations among classes at the base of history.

Dependency theory is based specifically in Latin American history–as the authors put it, intersecting political, social, and economic history. Both it and world systems theory come out of the same intellectual milieu–the left of the 1960s-1970s, seeking to understand global economic relations and counter modernization theory. In some ways, world systems theory seemed to me to be dependency theory writ large. Both suggest that a country’s course of development is, in part, determined by whether it is peripheral, semi-peripheral, or core to the world capitalist system. Cardoso and Falleto, however, break this down on a country by country level, and argue that while the options available to a country are in part determined by their place in the global economy, this is not all that determines their level of development. Indeed, the authors argue that political dynamics within each country–that is, actions by internal actors, not solely external forces–also helped to determine a country’s course of development, within a set of constraints typically coming from the outside world (particularly the United Kingdom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States thereafter). Perhaps because they were looking at a more granular level, Cardoso and Falleto see more room for individual countries to maneuver than Wallerstein does.

I was happy to read the actual main work about dependency theory because I feel like I’ve seen it caricatured plenty. Yet, it was a lot more nuanced than I expected it to be–indeed, in their postscript, Cardoso and Falleto refer to what they see as caricatures of what they originally said. I also realized how much my understanding of modern Latin American history was informed by dependency theory because my undergraduate Modern Latin America professor structured his class around this understanding–each unit of the syllabus was based on the periods that Cardoso and Falleto use: export capitalism, national capitalism, cosmopolitan capitalism. At the same time, it is perhaps too overarching of a theory. I look forward to discussing critiques, particularly those raised by other authors we have read this semester.

Cardoso and Falleto, as well as Wallerstein, both refer to Gramsci’s theory of hegemony to explain their ideas of how the economic system is tied together(?). After reading the selected readings, I fully admit that I’m still struggling with this concept–I feel like I understand better how others have characterized the concept, rather than how Gramsci himself does. Perhaps part of this is the nature of the writings–these are short musings that are difficult to tie together. So I’d like to discuss these further, and specifically applications to Latin American history. Some of Gramsci’s understandings seemed very specific to their time and place. At the same time, I found myself writing marginalia with applications of these concepts to Latin American history. Where did the authors we read go to for their understandings–and critiques–of Gramscian hegemony? Over the next couple of days, I will look back to those other works, and look forward to discussing these in context–especially as we prepare the minor field exam questions!

Minor field exam

As we discussed last meeting, these concepts really seem to tie together the works we’ve read. So along those lines, here’s a possible minor field exam question: How do the works we have read use and critique the concepts of cultural hegemony, world systems theory, and dependency theory to explain the place of the region today called Latin America in the world, 1492 to present? How do these concepts help illuminate that relationship? What do they obscure in the process? What are the authors using as substitutes and/or complements for these concepts?

LatAm Readings: United States & Latin America


Last spring, I took a fascinating Latin America and the United States course with Dr. Matthew Karush. We read a series of works (syllabus PDF) that looked primarily at the cultural relationship, exploring themes of transnationalism and generally complicating the picture; in fact, our class joke was “It’s complicated.”

So for this week, we felt it important to complement those readings with two overviews–one, written more like an undergraduate textbook, that focuses on the diplomatic and political relationship, and the other, an edited volume, that focuses on the cultural. I’m glad we did, as both of these books proved strong complements for the monographs from the class.

Books Read

Smith, Peter H. Talons of the Eagle: Latin America, the United States, and the World. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

This book provides an overview of U.S.-Latin American relations, synthesizing recent research. Smith divides the relationship’s history into three eras: Independence to 1930s, 1940s-late 1980s, and 1990s-today. These three eras represent three what he terms “regimes”–that is, predominant ways that the relationship worked, predominant patterns: Imperialism, Cold War, and post-Cold War. The pattern of each era was not unique to the Americas, but rather inter-American relationships reflected broader patterns. While Smith discusses the first era, he primarily focuses on the second two. This left me with the question of whether the long Imperialist era that Smith describes should be broken up further. While I could see the value of lumping U.S. actions and Latin American responses in this era together under a common rubric, especially in consideration of the broader international system, I wonder if this long of a period is a bit of a stretch. Perhaps more focus on that era would have allowed greater nuance. Nonetheless, Smith should be praised for not telling a one-sided story with this work–he does an admirable job of covering the variety that is Latin America, and focusing on not just what was happening in the United States but what was happening in Latin America, without losing sight of the unequal nature of the relationship. So, all in all this book provided a good synthesis and framework for the diplomatic and political side of the relationship.

Joseph, G. M, Catherine LeGrand, and Ricardo Donato Salvatore. Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998.

This book, in some ways, represents the other side of the coin from Smith: the cultural side. It is a collection of essays on different aspects of the U.S.-Latin American relationship, presaging (published in 1998) the culture-focused works that we read in the Latin America-U.S. class (the earliest was published around that time). I especially paid close attention to the introductory and concluding essays, which provided a great overall framework not just for the case study articles included in the volume but recent historiography of the relationship, and indeed helped me synthesize the works we’ve read this semester (discussed more below). Even though the book is 15 years old, I’d still recommend it for the framework it provides alone.

Tying Things Together: Discussion Topics


Once again, this theme comes up–it seems to be inevitable in discussions of Latin America’s relationship with the rest of the world. Smith, for example, defines the term as “the capacity of an actor–or nation–to impose its will on others without challenge” (5). He acknowledges Gramsci’s sense of hegemony as proscribing the courses of action that others can take–and their acceptance of those limits–but chooses not to use the term in that sense. In his essay in Close Encounters of Empire, though, Steve Stern uses that definition, in reprise of his previous work. I’d like to discuss this concept further–perhaps it should even form part of a minor field exam question. How do the different works define hegemony, and what difference does it make in how they portray the roles of “inside” and “outside” actors, for lack of a better term, in Latin American history? Depending on what other gaps we have to fill, perhaps it might be worth reading some Gramsci for the final week.

Dependency Theory & Developmentism, Relation of Each to World Systems Theory

Dependency theory figures prominently in Close Encounters of Empire, and slightly in Smith. In Close Encounters of Empire, both dependency theory and its foil, developmentalism, come in for rightful critique. I’d like to discuss further how each viewpoint illuminates–or doesn’t–both the topics discussed in these books, and the wider field as we’ve defined it. Perhaps some Prébisch or Cardoso might be in order for the final week, as well.


Smith divides his work into the three eras discussed above. Stern, in his introductory essay in Close Encounters of Empire, offers a similar periodization, but in this case for Latin America’s relationship with the rest of the world: 1540s to 1750s, 1750s to 1930s, and 1930s to today. But within that, he separates 1890s-1930s (the main focus of the book). I’d like to discuss these periodizations further, especially in how they differ from the more traditional periods that break at independence. Are these periodizations more reflective of an approach of looking at Latin America and the world, or do they hold up otherwise (if such an untangling can even occur)?

Latin America and the World as a Subset of Latin American History?

Along those lines, I’d like to discuss a broader question: The degree to which a discussion of Latin America and the world is separate from, a subset of, or an integral, impossible to separate part of Latin American history, at least since circa 1500. Is Latin American history since Columbus a history of imperial interventions and deepening ties with the rest of the world? To put it another way, is a discussion of the history of Latin America and the World really a discussion of Latin American history, period?

Means of Empire

Much discussion of the United States’s role in Latin America is focused on the concept of “informal empire”–after the Spanish-American War, the United States did not build a “direct” empire in Latin America, and even quickly at least formally freed one of the territories–Cuba–it conquered in 1898. Instead, the United States exercised other means of control that could be said to constitute an empire. I’d like to discuss some parallels and differences with Spanish and Portuguese means of empire, especially in light of recent historiography (e.g., Kamen) debunking the idea of a centrally-controlled Spanish Empire. Obviously there are a lot of differences, but are the similarities more than meets the eye? Was the U.S. method of rule through local elites not that different from Spanish methods?

Transnational Views

Recent historiography has emphasized how impossible it is to untangle what is “local” versus “foreign.” Transnational approaches are rightfully in vogue. I’d like to discuss such approaches–prominent in Close Encounters of Empire, particularly how they differ from comparative history, and even from the way that Smith tells his story, jumping by chapter between the United States and Latin American responses. Could his history be considered transnational? I’m not saying that’s a bad thing if it’s not–but it does raise the question of how the story would be different.

LatAm Readings: Incorporation into Nations and World-Systems

Books Read

This week’s readings are not as related to each other as past readings have been, due to outside circumstances preventing a meeting before now (thanks to Dr. Bristol for being understanding!). Nonetheless, the four do relate to a broad theme of incorporation of people and places into nation-states and world-systems.

Wallerstein, Immanuel Maurice. World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

This is an overview of Wallerstein’s world-systems theory–a condensed version of the three volumes in which Wallerstein lays out his theory of how regions are incorporated into the latest, and most powerful, world-system: global capitalism. Wallerstein places regions in three categories: cores, semi-peripheries, and peripheries. We largely read this book because world-systems theory keeps coming up in other readings, and indeed it related well to the other three books for this week.

Mallon, Florencia E. Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Mallon studies two regions of Mexico and two regions of Peru, focusing on how they were incorporated into the rising nation-states in the mid-to-late 19th century. She challenges ideas that peasants did not feel a sense of nationalism, showing how they understood nation differently from the ways that elites did. At the same time, Mexican peasants in the regions she studies became much more part of the broader nation by the early 20th century than did those in Peru.

Guardino, Peter F. The Time of Liberty: Popular Political Culture in Oaxaca, 1750-1850. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.

Building on Mallon but studying an earlier period, Guardino focuses on how political culture among the lower classes changed in the city of Oaxaca and the Oaxacan region of Villa Alta in the wake of Bourbon reforms and then Mexican independence. He shows how lower orders, in this case, responded to changes coming from above by sometimes defending former rights–especially in Indian communities fighting attempts to incorporate Indians as individuals into the broader liberal state.

Weber, David J. Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

In this book, Weber expands his gaze from the borderlands at the northern part of Spanish America–his focus in previous works–to across the Spanish Empire to explore relations with independent Indians. He focuses on the period from Carlos III’s ascension in 1759 through independence, showing how Bourbon reformers attempted (and often failed) to understand conditions on the ground in the Americas, and how Spanish approaches evolved over time–and varied in different regions–with regard to Indian policy. Weber narrows the gap often perceived between British and Spanish Indian policies, showing how Spaniards actually did, for example, make treaties with independent Indians and, often, managed to keep the peace–peace that would fall apart in the 19th century.

Tying Things Together: Discussion Topics

Incorporation of Places and Peoples

All of these works focus on the tying of local communities and polities into broader systems. Wallerstein, of course, is working from a high level, showing the functioning of the global economic that constantly seeks to incorporate new regions. Mallon and Guardino focus on the incorporation of peoples–Indians, mestizos, and other castas–into New Spain in the late 18th century (in the case of Guardino) and new nation-states of Mexico (in both cases) and Peru (in the case of Mallon) in the 19th century. Weber discusses Spanish attempts to incorporate independent Indians into its empire–and the accommodations the power of independent Indians forced Spanish officials to make in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I’d like to talk more about different ways of incorporating distinct places and peoples into empires and nation-states in this period, particularly comparing Weber’s story of independent Indians with the stories Mallon and Guardino tell of Indians who had been largely incorporated into the Spanish Empire, albeit as parts of republicas de indios (under the Spanish corporatist system) versus citizens of nation-states (under liberal systems), as 19th century reformers would have them be.

Local/Regional Studies and Large Scale Studies

Two of this week’s books (Mallon and Guardino) were intensely local studies, while Weber focused on a wider picture–borderlands across the Spanish Empire in the Americas–and of course Wallerstein painted a global picture. I’d like to discuss how local, comparative studies like Mallon’s and Guardino’s are changing the bigger picture of Latin American history. What do we gain and lose with such intensely focused studies? What areas are being studied? Part of why I was so eager to read Weber was that he focuses on the borderlands, areas not seemingly covered as much as the cores of the Spanish Empire or its successor nation-states.

Cores and Borderlands

Along those lines, I’d like to discuss the differences between cores, where Indians were more incorporated into the Spanish system, and borderlands areas like those Weber made a career studying. How do their histories vary? How do sources on incorporated, core, settled Indian groups–and non-Indians–and on unincorporated Indians influence how historians study these groups?


Hegemony is a theme that has continued to come up in the studies we’ve read, especially in relation to history of subalterns and world-systems theory. It is a prominent theme in Mallon’s work. I’d like to discuss that idea further. What makes one a hegemon, a system hegemonic?

Cultural Political History

Both Mallon’s and particularly Guardino’s studies are deeply local political histories, in a trend of studying political culture. I’d like to discuss–and know more about–the evolution of this strand of study, particularly how it differs from, and builds upon, traditional political history and the social and cultural history that came before.


Guardino focuses on the period 1750-1850, which, from what I understand, is becoming more common–rather than the break at independence. This allows for a focus on broad trends that traversed the period of independence, and help to explain it. I’d like to discuss this periodization further–is the field moving away from seeing independence as such as “clean break” in continuity?

LatAm Readings: Commodities

Books Read

This week’s three books focused on different commodities that tied Latin America to the rest of the world:

Lane, Kris E. Colour of Paradise: The Emerald in the Age of Gunpowder Empires. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2010.

Of the three works read for this week, this has the earliest chronological focus. Kris Lane traces all nodes of the trade in Colombian emeralds in the early modern period, taking readers on a journey from Colombia to India and Iran. Lane uses the story of the emerald to concur with Andre Gunder Frank and, more recently, John Tutino in arguing that Asia was the center of the world economy through the late 18th century, and that European colonization of the Americas was in large measure to procure the goods needed to tap into Asian markets. In this case, he traces American emeralds to far away destinations, showing that systems of trade went beyond the Atlantic. Lane successfully avoids the trap that some commodity histories fall into: arguing that their commodity changed the world. Instead, Lane argues that emeralds were a small part of the Spanish colonial system, important to one region, but that the trade opens up a wider panorama for the reader to view.

Soluri, John. Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States. 1st ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.

Soluri discusses the history of banana cultivation on the North Coast of Honduras from the 1870s to 1975, complementing works done on other regions. He traces the shift in banana production from small-scale trade with ship captains in the mid- to late-19th century to full-scale corporate production by the early 20th. Soluri doesn’t just tell the Honduran end, though; he also looks at the consuming end, how the banana took off in the United States from an exotic fruit to an everyday staple. This isn’t a traditional story of the large U.S. corporation coming in and controlling a country, though. Rather, he discusses the roles of locals in the process, from common workers to managers and executives. Soluri also ascribes agency to nature, telling the story of how banana cultivation affected the environment, and vice versa. In particular, he discusses how two pathogens changed the common type of banana consumed in the United States.

Gootenberg, Paul. Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

Gootenberg writes what he calls a “glocal” history of cocaine–it is solidly focused on the Andean lowlands from which coca originates, but traces the products of that plant through the world. Like Soluri, in telling the history this way Gootenberg is able to tell an in-depth story about a region but, at the same time, tell a global story, particularly how global actors impacted the region, and vice versa. Gootenberg traces three stages of the story of cocaine, the most known product of the coca plant (he emphasizes other uses): from being a medicine in the late 19th century, to attempts at prohibition in the early 20th century, to the illicit and in-demand drug that it became in the second half of the 20th century. He particularly focuses on how cocaine proved an exception to typical commodity flows: first, that some of the initial manufacture, not just export of the raw material, took place in Peru (indeed, some of the scientific discovery that resulted in cocaine took place there); and second, how its illicit nature by the mid-20th century made a difference.

Tying Things Together: Discussion Topics

World Systems Theory

In the first two weeks, world systems theory came up frequently. Not surprisingly, it’s a particularly strong theme this week. All three authors use world systems theory, and related Marxian economic analysis, to tie together the production and consumption ends of their stories. Lane, in particular, traces his commodity far and wide. I’m realizing that I need to read some more world systems theory, particularly Immanuel Wallerstein! How do these works compare with the early works on world systems, and how do they fit in today? How do they complicate or even invert the relationship (discussed further below) between core and periphery?

Commodity as a Lens

As these authors note, commodity studies have become increasingly popular recently. I’d like to discuss more about their popularity, and what they can tell us. For example, these three works illuminate global relationships in ways that, say, a political history does not. In some ways, commodity histories also invert traditional histories, particularly in dealing with issues of power and periphery versus core. What I’m curious about, though, is their influence on broader syntheses of national, regional, global, and world histories. How are the findings of commodity histories incorporated into those? How do they modify those understandings?

Comparing the Three Books

These three works discuss three different types of commodities: an inedible luxury mineral, what became a basic food staple, and what went from a medicine to an illicit drug. These different natures (and the chronological focus of each book), of course, lead to different histories. Yet certain connections to the outside world, and certain trade patterns, hold for all three in the context of their times. I’d like to discuss the different natures of each commodity and how those influenced the histories that happened, both locally and globally, as well as comparable commodities and how their stories are similar and different.

Latin American Agency & Dependency Theory

Gootenberg, in particular, strongly emphasizes the agency of Latin Americans; he states that, in spite of the story of cocaine being one of “drug-gone-bad,” “this agency is still worth noting” (318). He also uses the term “periphery” to describe Peru in the overall global system. Yet here, for this particular commodity, he is arguing that Peru is not the periphery, but the center, and notes that Latin Americans have controlled this industry from the get-go. Both Soluri and Lane also emphasize the agency of locals in the areas where the commodities are produced, whether from resistance to regulation or active control of the means of production. Other works, particularly those we read in Dr. Karush’s Latin America and the United States class, are breaking down the simplicity of dependency theory (or at least the straw-man thereof) by showing how Latin Americans were actors in these stories. A prime example is Gillian McGillivray’s Blazing Cane, which shows how sugar production in Cuba during the 20th century wasn’t so simple as a dichotomy of U.S. owners, Cuban workers. Similarly, Soluri shows Honduran ownership and participation in the banana industry. Are commodity studies one of the ways in which breaking down dependency theory becomes most apparent? What of older commodity studies–do they reinforce dependency theory?

Agency of Nature

Soluri explicitly focuses on nature as an agent in his story. This has become common in more recent histories, particularly with the turn toward environmental history, as we (for better) see the role of humanity as another animal. Soluri discusses how nature foiled the plans of banana growers. Nature is more of an agent for Soluri, though, than for Gootenberg. Lane doesn’t explicitly refer to nature as an agent, but does show how the natural environment affected emerald production. Is the agency of nature something essential for the history of commodities, perhaps even more so than for other histories? Would these books be incomplete without discussion of nature?

“Modern” Commodities

Gootenberg refers to coca and cocaine as “genuinely modern commodities” (53). What makes a commodity “modern”? Is that defined more by use, or by the level of production that goes into it? Taking the logic of the amount of production going into production of a commodity, would bananas be considered “modern”? As Soluri shows, bananas have been produced in industrial fashion, complete with chemical inputs, gassing rooms to cause them to ripen off the tree, and multinational corporations. Are they, in some ways, a manufactured good?

LatAm Readings: African Diaspora

Books Read

This week’s readings focus on the African Diaspora in Latin America, particularly during the colonial and early national periods:

Miller, Joseph Calder. Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730-1830. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.

This comprehensive (to put it mildly, at 692 pages) book discusses the slave trade from the Portuguese colony of Angola. Miller states in the preface that he methodologically “settled for the privilege of eclecticism that historians sometimes claim,” after noting that readers may notice that the book contains “world-systems theory, Marxism, liberal economics, anthropology, and probably other things as well.” This statement gets at how comprehensive this book is, looking at all aspects and nodes of the system that made the slave trade possible, and how that changed over time. It is truly an Atlantic history; although its focus (and Miller’s main area of study) is West-Central Africa, Miller includes sections on Portugal and Brazil.

Miller begins by laying out the geography and peoples of West-Central Africa, then discusses economic and political systems in that region, including how slavery functioned. One of the central themes is that West-Central African rulers found wealth in people, particularly in control of people. He then discusses the changes the Atlantic slave trade wrought. Like other authors, particularly David Eltis in The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas, Miller shows how Europeans tapped into a preexisting system of slavery and integrated it into the Atlantic economy. People could become slaves through wartime capture, conviction for criminal activity, settlement of debt, as refugees from climactic issues, and at times through outright kidnapping. The Portuguese demand for slaves for the sugar plantations and, later, gold mines of Brazil, however, super-charged these processes. Rulers of West-Central African polities, in exchange for trade goods, looked for more people to enslave, drawing an ever-expanding area into the global economy. Trade goods were valued for their use, and rulers often distributed them as a way to bring people into their networks. Rulers were picky about whom they would keep as their own slaves and whom they would sell; they typically sold young men away (the better not to contest their rule) and kept women; sex ratios in some regions became increasingly imbalanced. At the same time, rulers found themselves undermined as others entered the slave trade, and as people increasingly became exchangable commodities.

As Miller points out, Angola remained a “white man’s grave” through this period, so the people in charge of the trade in the interior came from African polities. At the ports of Luanda and Banguela–the areas actually controlled by Portugal–Luso-African merchants largely controlled the trade and, through the late 18th century, actually owned the slaves from the time their captors (or, often, a couple of buyers down the line) brought them to port until Brazilians disembarked and sold them. This was largely because of high mortality. After the late 18th century, Brazilian merchants assumed ownership–and thus risk, albeit a declining risk–during the voyage. A small number of Portuguese and Brazilian merchants lived in Luanda, but often not for long (whether through departure or mortality).

Miller then has smaller sections about slavery in Brazil and then Portuguese control of the trade. In each section, he also discusses the end of the slave trade in the early 19th century, and briefly brings the story to the time of European colonization. His conclusion ties the story together, focusing on how illness and mortality was the hallmark of the entire trade, and its implications. He shows how differing economic systems and valuations–Europeans valued precious metals, Africans valued people–tied together to make this trade so large.

Although this book largely focuses on economics, Miller is careful not ever to lose the human element. He continually reminds the reader that he is discussing real human lives. The economic analysis of this trade in humans never diminishes its impact on the lives of individuals.

Reis, João José. Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Reis uses a large slave uprising in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil in 1835, and the resulting trials, to draw a social portrait of the slave population of the region at the time. For me, this book nicely complemented two books I read in my Global Power and Local Culture in Early Latin America class: Stuart Schwartz’s Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society: Bahia, 1550-1835 (which, as the title implies, traces Bahian slavery until this rebellion) and Richard Graham’s Feeding the City: From Street Market to Liberal Reform in Salvador, Brazil, 1780-1860, which focuses on the food trade. Reis first sets up the atmosphere of Bahia at the time of the rebellion, discussing how economic stagnation and an extremely hierarchical society helped breed rebellion, particularly as Brazil separated itself from Portugal; as Graham discusses more in-depth, the separation was largely peaceful except for in Bahia, where Portuguese forces held out in the city of Salvador for a year while Brazilian forces besieged them. Reis then focuses on revolts both by free people and by slaves leading up to the conflagration in 1835.

Next, Reis discusses the revolt itself. The revolt was short-lived; it took place literally overnight. But its sheer size is what made it memorable. Trials ensued, and through those records Reis was able to create a profile of the rebels. The rebels were mostly slaves and some freed people who were born in Africa. As both Schwartz and Kathleen Higgins (in “Licentious Liberty” in a Brazilian Gold-Mining Region: Slavery, Gender, and Social Control in Eighteenth-Century Sabará, Minas Gerais) both discuss as well, through the mid-19th century Brazilian slaves were largely African-born. High mortality rates meant the slave population never reproduced itself (unlike in the present-day United States, the one place where that happened), and second-generation slaves received their freedom much more frequently than first-generation. Additionally, many of the rebels came from the Nago and Hausa ethnic groups, and followed Islam. Other ethnic groups resisted in different ways; for example, Angolans tended to flee to maroon communities. Throughout the book, Reis shows how ethnic and religious identity largely survived the Middle Passage. He also draws a profile of their occupations. Finally, Reis discusses the backlash, which included increased religious suppression and new, strict laws controlling the movements of freed people of African descent.

This book is particularly valuable for showing just how much ethnic and religious identity survived the Middle Passage. Hierarchies and differences existed among slaves. Slaves bonded with people from their own regions and their own ethnic and religious groups. In other words, the enslaved population in Bahia was not simply an undifferentiated “African” mass.

Bryant, Sherwin K, Rachel Sarah O’Toole, and Ben Vinson. Africans to Spanish America: Expanding the Diaspora. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012.

In this book, I read the three essays comprising Part 1:

  • Leo J. Garofalo, “The Shape of a Diaspora: The Movement of Ibero-Africans to Colonial Spanish America”
  • Frank “Trey” Proctor III, “African Diasporic Identity in Mexico City to 1650”
  • Rachel Sarah O’Toole, “To Be Free and Lucumí: Ana de la Calle and Making African Diaspora Identities in Colonial Perú”

Like Reis, these three readings focused on identity among those enslaved in Africa and their descendants, albeit, in this case, in Spanish America. Garofalo points out just how early in the development of the Atlantic world there were Africans and people of African descent in Spain and Portugal, and how important they were in staffing ships, working on sugar plantations in the Atlantic islands, and expanding the Iberian empires in their early days. Proctor then explores Africans in Mexico City, noting how, as others have described, the 17th century was the heyday of the slave trade to Mexico. He finds an interesting phenomenon: While Reis points to the continuity of African ethnic identities, Proctor describes the formation of new–but not completely new–identities. Using marriage records, he shows that Africans–enslaved, freed, and born free–tended to associate with and marry people from their same general regions, people with whom they might not have been ethnically associated in Africa but with whom they did become ethnically associated in Mexico. O’Toole, meanwhile, focuses on the will of Ana de la Calle, a freed woman originally from the area near the Bight of Benin who used the word “lucumí” in her will–a term usually associated with enslaved people from her region. O’Toole then deconstructs the term Ana de la Calle used to describe herself, and takes cues from her social position–she had accumulated some degree of wealth. O’Toole thus shows how, in the smaller African diaspora that existed in Perú, certain identities tended to remain, but perhaps not to the same degree as in other places.

Tying Things Together: Discussion Topics

Ethnic Identity

The big question present in all three books (albeit not as strongly in Miller). How did Africans and people of African descent in the Americas describe and think of themselves? To what degree did circumstances in the Americas change how these people perceived themselves? How did outsiders perceive them? What were geographic differences in this process? For example, did the larger African and African-descended population in Brazil, particularly around Bahia, make for greater ethnic differentiation than in Mexico and particularly in Perú?

Comparative Slavery in Latin America

These books hint at regional and chronological differences. How did slavery and freedom evolve differently in different parts of Latin America? After the Global Power and Local Culture in Early Latin America class and a colonial North America class, and these readings, I feel much more versed in Brazilian and British American slavery than slavery in Spanish America. I’ll look forward to discussing these regions comparatively, and to bringing in the African side of the Atlantic into the story with Miller. What drove the trade on each side of the Atlantic? Why did it wax and wane in particular regions when it did?

Resistance and Accommodation

Reis focuses on resistance among the enslaved, particularly rebellion, and how ethnicity shaped responses to slavery. Miller, meanwhile, shows resistance before the enslaved even boarded ships. Yet, many enslaved people understandably did not take the risk of rebellion. How do these articles and books show degrees of resistance, accommodation, and assimilation?

The Bigger Picture

How did Africans and people of African descent fit into the larger pictures of each of these regions? As Dr. Bristol’s and other books raise, Mexico had a huge influx of African slaves in the early 17th century. Yet their role in the society tends not to be so well-known.

World-Systems Theory

Last week we discussed world-systems theory in light of Stern. I’d like to discuss more, particularly in regard to Miller. How does the world system of the slave trade he shows fit into the wider world economic system, particularly with regard to Asia, as John Tutino discusses in his Making a New World?

The Shadow of Freyre

Reis and Miller do not address the shadow of Gilberto Freyre’s theories on slavery and paternalism nearly as directly as Higgins and Schwartz do. Yet they both, particularly Miller, contradict Freyre in showing that slavery was extremely exploitative, even if certain paternalistic elements mitigated it to a slight degree. What is the continuing influence of Freyre in the historiography now?

For next week…

Next week’s topic is commodities. I am reading:

  • Gootenberg, Paul. Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
  • Lane, Kris E. Colour of Paradise: The Emerald in the Age of Gunpowder Empires. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2010.
  • Soluri, John. Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States. 1st ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.

LatAm Readings: The Conquest & Early Colonization

Introduction to the Course

This fall, I am working with Dr. Joan C. Bristol on a minor field readings for “Latin America and the World.” The readings are meant to complement the two courses I took for the minor field: Global Power & Local Culture in Early Latin America, taught by Dr. John Tutino at Georgetown University, and Latin America & the United States (syllabus PDF), taught by Dr. Matthew Karush at George Mason University. Dr. Karush, Dr. Bristol, and I came up with the theme of “Latin America and the World” as the best way to tie together the two courses into a minor field, knowing that a minor field simply in Latin American history would be too broad to be useful. For those curious, here is the field statement that Dr. Bristol and I composed.

As part of the minor field readings, I’m doing a reflective piece on each section’s readings. Following the lead of my classmate Erin Bush’s readings with Dr. Sharon Leon, with Dr. Bristol’s permission I’m blogging my reflective pieces. As I’ve written before, I find blogging a more useful exercise than simply sending the professor a reflective piece. Writing for any person that might stumble upon my blog helps me synthesize, and keeps with my views on open scholarly communication.

First Module: Conquest and Early Colonialism

The format of this post will be slightly different, as Dr. Bristol and I already had our discussion. Future posts will be in anticipation of the discussion.

Books read

Norton, Marcy. Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008.

This excellent and eminently readable work focuses on the spread of tobacco and chocolate from their American roots to Europe. Norton argues that these two commodities represented, metaphorically, a reverse colonization: Europeans adopted their consumption and only adapted them in limited ways. She begins by detailing the use of each in pre-Columbian America, where tobacco was much more widespread than chocolate; the latter was largely limited to Mesoamerica. Chocolate was primary consumed as a beverage, and tobacco could be ingested through smoking, chewing, and sniffing.

When Europeans arrived in the Americas, they found these substances odd, and initially weren’t sure what to make of them. Over time, though, Europeans in the Americas began to consume them, worrying some commentators that they were “going native.” Europeans consumed chocolate and tobacco in much the same way as indigenous Americans did, and for pleasurable purposes, rather than medical. By the late sixteenth century, though, the goods began to flow to Europe. European commentators, whose work Norton analyzes in-depth, struggled to make sense of chocolate and tobacco. Some argued for their medical effectiveness. Norton argues, however, that arguments about their medical use only came after the goods had come to Europe, and long after Europeans in the Americas had begun using them. Thus, their introduction to Europe was not based on medicinal value, as others have argued, but rather on the acquired tastes that Europeans in the Americas spread to Europe.

Finally, in the seventeenth century, chocolate and tobacco became accepted commodities in Spain and elsewhere in Europe. Europeans, while making some adaptation (for example, in seasoning that accompanied chocolate), largely consumed chocolate and tobacco in the same ways indigenous Americans had, and even with similar associations. This consumption did, however, involve stripping away sacred meanings that indigenous Americans had with the goods–something necessary to remove their status as “pagan.”

Overall this was an excellent work. The only strong critique I offered to Dr. Bristol was that the setting shifts almost completely from the Americas (particularly Mesoamerica) to Europe as the book progresses. While it makes sense that the book began in the Americas, with the goods being native to the Americas, I wanted to know more how their use in the Americas evolved. For example, today what I remember as “Mexican hot chocolate” from growing up in San Antonio includes cinnamon, a spice not native to the Americas. How did chocolate and tobacco consumption change in the Americas, particularly in Mesoamerica? Norton provides an epilogue that brings the story of each to the present day, but focused more on Europe and North America.

Other than that minor quibble, though, this is a book that I strongly recommend.

Restall, Matthew. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

This book, primarily written for undergraduates, provides a succinct introduction to the Spanish “Conquest.” I use quotation marks because Restall argues against the idea that the Spanish Conquest was complete.

Restall, choosing the number seven because of its “almost mystical qualities,” frames the book around seven common, interrelated myths surrounding the Conquest:

  1. Exceptional Men: Demolishing the idea that small numbers of Spaniards brought down large empires. Instead, he focuses in indigenous participation, for their own reasons, in the Conquest.
  2. The King’s Army: An argument against the idea that Spanish conquistadors were soldiers in the sense of members of a modern standing army. Instead, conquistadors tended to be private adventurers.
  3. White Conquistadors: Along the lines of the “exceptional men” myth, Restall takes on the idea that it was only Spaniards responsible for the Conquest. Not only indigenous Americans, such as Tlaxcalans and Tarascans who used the Spaniards for their own ends against the Mexica, but Africans participated.
  4. Completion: The Conquest was not “over and done” in 1521 in Mesoamerica and 1532 in Peru, as is commonly believed. Indeed the Conquest was not a simple matter of Spaniards imposing their will over indigenous Americans, but rather a give-and-take. In many places, indigenous Americans continued their same lifestyles, and continued to live autonomously.
  5. (Mis)Communication: In this complex chapter, Restall shows that while a great deal of mutual cultural unintelligibility did occur, both sides had some understanding of the other’s intentions. The Conquest did not occur either because the two sides were unable to understand each other, or because they could understand each other perfectly; instead Restall invokes Richard White’s “middle ground” to explain what happened.
  6. Native Desolation: While indigenous Americans faced massive population declines, they, and their cultures, were not wiped out by the Spanish Conquest. Rather, indigenous cultures and polities persisted.
  7. Superiority: While Spaniards had some superior technology, such as steel swords, Spaniards were not so “superior” that small bands of them could bring down massive empires. Rather, it took political cooperation with indigenous actors, disease, and the like to create simply an incomplete conquest.

Restall’s work nicely complemented, and helped put together, the works I read in the Global Power and Local Culture in Early Latin America class: two large syntheses of Spanish colonialism (J.H. Elliott’s Empires of the Atlantic World and Henry Kamen’s Empire: How Spain Became a Global Power) and four “case studies” of particular regions under Spanish rule (Karen Spalding’s Huarochirí, Nancy Farriss’s Maya Society Under Colonial Rule, James Lockhart’s The Nahuas After the Conquest, and John Tutino’s Making a New World). For me, the common thread among these works (as well as Steve Stern’s), following the model Kamen emphasizes, is that Spain’s empire was based on local arrangements. Restall’s work reinforces that idea.

My main critiques of this book were twofold: That the number seven seemed catchy but not perhaps the best, leading to a great deal of repetition among chapters, and that Restall mainly focused on the Spanish conquest of societies with highly organized polities, like those in Mesoamerica and the Andes, and not so much on nomadic societies. Part of that second nit may be a result of when Restall wrote, before David Weber published his masterwork Bárbaros, which focuses on Spanish relations with nomadic tribes. Based on the other books I’ve read, and from what I understand, there aren’t as many localized case studies of Spanish empire-building outside of places like Mesoamerica and the Andes.

That said, I really enjoyed this book and found it to be a good synthesis, appropriate not only for an undergraduate class but for graduate students and for everyone else.

Stern, Steve J. Peru’s Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest: Huamanga to 1640. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982.

Stern’s book is one of the first in a wave of local case studies of Spanish empire-building, a wave that includes the books I mention above. Stern focuses on a particular region of Peru, Huamanga, which was on the road between the Inca Empire’s capital of Cuzco and the Spanish colonial of Lima. Stern begins with how people organized themselves in the harsh environment of the Andes, where the land’s rapid increase in elevation creates microclimates. Thus, allyus, or small communities, formed and organized, with members of the community living in different areas as to maximize resources. Thus, unlike the contiguous villages we are used to, allyus had portions in different places.

This description shows that Stern’s book is largely an economic history, focusing on the evolution of economic organization–from the formation of allyus to the conquest by the Inca Empire in the fifteenth century, and then the decapitation of the Inca Empire by Spaniards in the early sixteenth century. Stern then focuses on what he defines as different stages of Spanish colonialism, and indigenous responses to it. First, the Spanish regime was largely focused on plunder through the 1560s, with allyus and even their leaders, kurakas, left largely intact. But indigenous resistance and population loss from disease made that system untenable, so Viceroy Toledo organized a system of state-based exploitation, including requirements of tribute, reorganization of allyus, and labor drafts, particularly for the mines of Potosí. As Stern says, it was with these reforms that “the local peoples of Huamanga finally became Indians”–that is, an ethnically-based social class. Continued state exploitation also created economic dependency, leading to Stern’s final stage, private exploitation, where private Spanish actors formed their own unequal economic relationships with indigenous Andeans. Stern ends at 1640, when, for him, the conquest of the Andes was essentially complete.

This is a simplification of an extremely complex book. Along with the story Stern tells about the Andes, he is also tying into broader questions of global economics and how this particular region fit into it. The book’s focus is strongly economic–for example, Stern attributes the Taki Onquoy movement, a millenarian movement among indigenous Andeans in the 1560s, as largely a response to material conditions.

My main critique of the book is the strong economic focus, a marked contrast from later works like Spalding’s Huarochirí and Norton’s Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures, both of which take a more cultural focus. Nonetheless, Stern had to choose a focus, and his periodization, for that matter, is similar to that of Spalding. I can see why this book remains a classic and a must-read for anyone who wants to learn about the process of colonization in the Andes.

Tying things together

These books approach Spanish conquest and colonization in the Americas in different ways, and, in combination with the other books I mentioned above (as well as many others), illuminate different aspects. Norton illuminates a perspective of cultural transmission–in this case, from colony to metropole–while Restall gives an overall picture, and Stern gives a focused snapshot on the effects of conquest and colonization in one region. Restall is largely synthesizing and responding to historiography, while Stern takes an economic approach and Norton takes a linguistic and cultural approach. In other words, Stern has a strong numbers focus, while Restall and Norton focus strongly on analyzing and deconstructing texts to make their arguments.

When Dr. Bristol and I were discussing the books as a whole, she asked me about how they treat indigenous agency. I realized that I am very much a product of my time. I didn’t consider that a major focus because, to me learning Latin American history in the early 2000s, treatments of indigenous agency (whether through resistance or cooperation) in the process of Spanish empire-building are so common-sense as not to merit notice. Of course indigenous peoples played a major role! But as she pointed out, and as Restall argues, that interpretation has not always been the most common–far from it. Rather, these and the above-cited books are part of a new wave of scholarship that shows Spanish empire-building not to have been top-down, but rather a contested, often local process. This, I would argue (following Kamen), is what gave the Spanish Empire its staying power. The constituent parts of the Empire each had enough people with interests in maintaining the Empire. The reason they had such interests: the arrangements made locally.

Next time

The next topic will be African Diaspora. For that meeting on September 19, I am reading:

  • Bryant, Sherwin K, Rachel Sarah O’Toole, and Ben Vinson. Africans to Spanish America: Expanding the Diaspora. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012. (chapters 1-3)
  • Miller, Joseph Calder. Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730-1830. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.
  • Reis, João José. Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.