- The Oxford Handbook of Latin American History ed. by José C. Moya
In this recent collection of essays by Latin American history scholars, editor José C. Moya pulls together a comprehensive look at the state of the field while also offering the nonspecialist an extremely valuable tool for understanding the region’s past as well as its construction as a “historical category” of analysis. Ranging from race and slavery to economics and sexuality, and from colonial ethnography to twentieth-century subaltern studies, each chapter offers a comprehensive view of the most recent literature in their specific area. The compilation boasts contributions from both seasoned experts and new voices in the field, making it an extremely useful tool for both the scholar of Latin America and the global history specialist.
With the introduction, Moya attempts to answer the question of why Latin America, which has “continued to have much stronger historical parallels to the West than the rest of the world,” persists as a region classified as non-Western (p. 14). The question, and the answers he offers, should resonate with anyone who grapples with the dyads of Western/non-Western, developed/developing, or First/Third World. For those who teach global or world history, explaining to students both the geography and scholarly meanings of the “West” can be filled with potential pitfalls. Through the context of Latin America Moya offers a deconstruction of this term that challenges the placement of the bottom half of the Western Hemisphere outside of this category. Using copious empirical data, Moya argues not only that Latin America is tied together cohesively through what he calls its “Iberian cultural imprint,” but also that definitions of the “West” need to similarly [End Page 447] be interrogated and should be seen as “inconsistent, malleable, and fluctuating but ultimately meaningful” (pp. 7, 16).
However, he misses an ideal moment to interrogate the place of the Caribbean in the context of this discussion of terminology and “invention.” As Marshall Eakin argues, most definitions of the region “tend to leave out or avoid those areas of the Americas that make definitions the most problematic and interesting: most of the islands of the Caribbean . . . Belize, the Guianas, and regions of ‘overlap’ . . . It is precisely in these ‘transition zones’ that the definition of Latin America . . . becomes the most challenging.”1 While Eakin offers what he calls an “entry and exit” approach in which scholars could define when and under what circumstances these transition zones become part of Latin America, Peter Winn argues for a more straightforward “view from the South” as a way to understand how the Americas have “shared a common historical experience.”2 In fact, several essays in the collection point to the need of including the Caribbean, particularly those that touch on slavery, African descendent populations, sexuality, family, medicine, and labor. The frequent reliance on the work of Sydney Mintz throughout the collection only reinforces the need for a more expansive construct of the region. Mintz’s foundational work on plantation life and culture as well as his arguments for seeing the circum-Caribbean as a sociocultural area stress the ties that bound and continue to bind the region despite linguistic differences in colonization. Touching upon the scholarly marginalization of the Caribbean in the introduction would have strengthened what is already a stellar collection and conceptualization of the history of the Americas.
Scholars seeking an understanding of the colonial period in the Americas should look closely at the first four chapters, which underscore the patterns of Iberian settlement and, as Moya terms it, the “invention” of Latin America (p. 17). Kevin Terraciano and Lisa Sousa address thoroughly the extensive historiography of New Spain (Mexico and Central America), while Lyman L. Johnson and Susan M. Socolow focus on the past twenty years of scholarship on colonial South America. Both essays attend to the continuities and divergences between Latin American and U.S. scholarship, a thread that continues through the remaining selections. While the research on New Spain is [End Page 448...