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Was There an Age of Revolution in Latin America?: New Literature on Latin American Independence

From: Latin American Research Review
Volume 38, Number 3, 2003
pp. 237-249 | 10.1353/lar.2003.0034

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Latin American Research Review 38.3 (2003) 237-249

Latin America Between Colony and Nation: Selected Essays. By John Lynch. (New York: Palgrave, 2001. Pp. 256. $68.00 cloth.)
State And Society in Spanish America During the Age of Revolution. Edited by Victor M. Uribe-Uran. (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources Books, 2001. Pp. 261. $60.00 cloth, $21.95 paper.)
The Wars Of Independence in Spanish America. Edited by Christon I. Archer. (Jaguar Books on Latin America, no. 20. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources Books, 2000. Pp. 325. $55.00 cloth, $18.95 paper.)
Independence And Revolution In Spanish America: Perspectives and Problems. Edited by Anthony McFarlane and Eduardo Posada Carbo. (London: Institute for Latin American Studies, University of London, 1999, Pp. 192. $19.95 paper.)

The study of independence remains one of the main topics in Latin American history, but perspectives on the era have changed considerably during the past decades. While for a long time the movements for independence from Spain were interpreted, especially in the national historiographies, as the founding years of each nation-state and treated as an epoch in its own right, today the "middle period" or the "Age of Revolution" are discussed as adequate time frames to study the breakdown of colonial rule and the beginning of the new nation-states. Two of the books under review here subscribe to this larger perspective. One questions the inclusion of Latin America into the list of regions experiencing revolution, while the other focuses on the movements for independence and especially the wars between insurgents and royalists implying a concentration during the years from 1808 to 1825.

The Wars of Independence in Spanish America, edited by Christon I. Archer, concentrates on the process of fighting and adopts, at least in parts, a microhistoric view to provide a better understanding of the insurgents and the royalists. The volume brings together thirteen chapters published earlier elsewhere and is organized into four sections: the origins of insurrection; the insurgency and counterinsurgency in New Spain; caudillismo, war, and insurgency in South America; and finally, the defeat of Spain in the Americas. In sections two and three on warfare in New Spain and South America, some central documents are included. Each chapter starts with a useful short preamble by Archer, who skillfully situates the respective contribution in the historical and scholarly context. Archer also provides an introduction to the volume dealing with the reasons for independence. The author uses a wide variety of examples to illustrate life at the end of the colonial period and during the war. This style is a strength of the chapter but at the same time also its weakness. The colorful and vivid pictures sometimes seem too detailed for an overview. While Archer concentrates on New Spain, Brian Hamnett addresses the insurrection and the royalist reaction to it in New Granada. Regional differences in economics and social structure resulted in conflicts that were added to the struggle between the colony and Spain.

The part on New Spain brings together a microstudy by Virginia Guedea that focuses on a poor worker who was drawn into the fights between insurgents and counterinsurgents by coincidence, and not because he adhered to one side or the other. The protagonist was forced to become a messenger for the insurgents by force, and when the royal troops caught him, he was threatened with capital punishment. Guedea uses his case to show how all people were affected by the ongoing war without really taking sides themselves. The second essay by Peter Guardino shows a different situation in the area that later became the state of Guerrero. The region was one of the major arenas of social and political conflict during the wars of independence. Guardino argues that popular participation in the warfare on the insurgent side occurred because local elites and peasants shared concrete interests as well as basic notions of politics, justice, and legitimacy. A cross-class alliance formed, integrating such diverse groups as Indian peasants, mulatto sharecroppers, provincial muleteers, hacendados, and priests. Thus, Guardino's study defies the notion that members of the lower classes only participated in the war of independence as cannon fodder, without pursuing their own goals. These two fine...