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Introduction: Latin America in the Global Sixties

From: The Americas
Volume 70, Number 3, January 2014
pp. 349-362 | 10.1353/tam.2014.0016

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

An important shift is under way in the scholarship on Latin America during the Cold War. This special issue on the Global Sixties presents many of the leading academic voices of that historiographical movement. In part, today’s shift is influenced by a new generation of historians unencumbered by the ideological baggage carried by those who witnessed and participated in the political struggles and artistic exuberance of the 1960s as they occurred. With this shift, we are finally reaching a point where more historia than memoria is being written. Without question, the numerous memoir-based narratives written by participants have helped to inform our understanding of the epoch, providing rich primary-source narratives of personal recollection and witness. The new historical investigations build on these memoirs, yet are firmly grounded in archival research. In turn, this archival research has fleshed out old historical questions and brought to the forefront many new ones. The results have often been fundamentally revisionist interpretations of the prevailing assumptions of the period.

This shift, however, is also being shaped by a bold reconceptualization of the period itself. We are witnessing, in Thomas Bender’s terms, an expanding of the frame, one that is influencing studies of the Cold War era across regional specializations. This broadening of the conceptual frame is firmly grounded in a transnationalist approach to thinking about the time period and is reflected in the emergent historiographical designation itself: Global Sixties. At the same time, the term reflects a growing and fruitful dialogue between historians of the two historiographical currents that constitute the building blocks of this new designation.

The first current is that of “Cold War Studies,” which, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of Communist Party archives in the 1990s, embarked on “global” approaches to the Cold War. These new works assumed a global frame of reference, while seeking to integrate more traditional questions of diplomacy and geopolitical strategizing with social, economic, intellectual, and, to a lesser extent, cultural history. Significantly, they sought to understand the motivating forces and historical impact of the Cold War as a “global war,” one that addressed the logic of superpower interventions on one hand, and Third World revolutionary movements on the other, as interdependent and interlocking aspects of a larger global phenomenon. In seeking to make sense of the superpower collaboration that culminated (counter-intuitively) in the process of détente, Jeremi Suri writes: “Understanding moments of global conjuncture such as the 1960s requires an international history that treats power as both multicultural and multidimensional.”

Concurrent with this “globalizing” of Cold War Studies was the evolution of a second historiographical current: 1960s Studies. New approaches to untangling the origins, composition, and trajectory of the New Left in the United States led to a widening of conceptual interpretations of U.S. radicalism, in part by bringing to light the interconnections between different social movements. This led to Van Gosse’s useful proposal that the New Left constituted a “movement of movements,” one which linked social mobilizations across the political-cultural spectrum under an overarching rubric of “New Left” constellations. In itself, this was an important widening of the frame of analysis, but equally significant were new pursuits of the transnational connections and impact of New Left social actors, ideological forces, and the cultural imaginary. By the start of the twenty-first century, U.S. and European research into the 1960s had moved far beyond the “nation” as a singular frame of reference. First introduced by Arthur Marwick, the term “long 1960s” also came into use as a means of periodizing the epoch, one that acknowledged the artificial limitations of considering the 1960s as limited to a particular decade (that is, 1960 through 1969) while simultaneously allowing for historians to rethink the significance of critical junctures that bookend the era in local terms.

Latin American historiography on the 1960s similarly underwent an important process of revisionism. On one hand, new research intersected with and lent support to highly visible projects of “truth and reconciliation” undertaken in most countries and that reflected a wider pursuit of the “recuperation of memory.” These projects aimed to bring justice and accountability to the victims of state-sponsored...


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