- Los pueblos allende el río Cauca: La formación del Suroeste y la cohesión del espacio en Antioquia, 1830–1877
Colombian historians have shown a particular interest in geography. Juan Carlos Vélez Rendón belongs to a circle of scholars based in the city of Medellín who have been at the forefront of historicizing the spatial aspects of nation-state formation. They pay special attention to the dynamics of regionalism, focusing mainly on their own province of Antioquia. Los pueblos allende el río Cauca makes an important contribution to Colombian scholarship by tracing the settlement and integration of the southwestern corner of Antioquia. The book also makes larger arguments about how Antioquia itself took shape as a cultural and political region.
Settlers founded new towns in the nineteenth century on the mountainous western side of the Cauca River, along the border with the then-province of Cauca. By the early twentieth century, this was an important coffee-producing district, well integrated into the regional and national economy. In the early nineteenth century, however, inhabitants of the settled core area of Antioquia, to the east, viewed the southwest as a distant and isolated frontier "on the other side" of the Cauca River.
The initial chapters of the book focus on material infrastructure and economic integration. The 1850 s constituted a crucial turning point, when trail building, settlement, mining, and agriculture converted this frontier from a barrier into a bridge for regional integration. Gold mining, which attracted the first settlers, was soon superseded by livestock and agriculture. In the second section of the book, the author deftly traces state formation at the local level. He clearly lays out the processes whereby local governance was institutionalized over the period under study. New settlements were first governed by land distribution committees, then by justices of the peace. Finally, the settlements became parish districts with elected councils and formal bureaucracies. The author emphasizes the roles of priests, lay associations, and personal patron-client relationships in weaving a dense social fabric that bound members of these communities together and aligned most of them with the Conservative Party.
Veléz Rendón sees regional integration as a process of domination and cultural homogenization. Drawing heavily on published official reports, as well as some archival research, he finds that civil and ecclesiastic authorities sought to stamp out behaviors they deemed immoral—such as prostitution, illegal gambling, and extramarital cohabitation. The author cites some fascinating documents, in which conservative priests used highly gendered discourse to link dissident political liberalism with immorality. His archival evidence, however, is not sufficient to demonstrate that local inhabitants fully accepted the norms imposed upon them.
The last two sections of the book examine how the region of Antioquia materialized in the public imaginary through cartography and jurisdictional restructuring. Vélez Rendón shows how the constant reorganization of administrative space [End Page 552] within Antioquia led ultimately to the consolidation of Medellín as the region's predominant city. The author views the incorporation of the southwestern periphery as integral to the shaping of Antioquia as a whole; the periphery helped shaped the center. Thus, the book complements recent studies by Colombian and foreign scholars who emphasize the importance of core-periphery dynamics in twentieth-century Antioquia.
Los pueblos allende el río Cauca is a fine study of state formation from the ground up. Vélez Rendón demonstrates that region formation was a modern, dynamic process that took place in tandem with nation-state formation. The book, however, would have benefited from a revised definition of "frontier" in light of the recent revisionist literature on this topic in both North and South America. The author relies on a traditional conception of the frontier as a largely empty space inviting "penetration" and "occupation" (p. xxiv). Despite his emphasis on domination and his stated intent to transcend regional myths, he ultimately leaves...