The Americas 61.2 (2004) 271-272
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The value of these essays rests upon the Introduction, where the editors argue that the disciplines of anthropology and history have much to offer one another for research in cultural history. Cultural historians, the editors argue, favor studying what Clifford Geertz called the "web of signifiers" that make up human behavior and which are produced and reproduced by social activity. As they say, historians have been familiar with this merger for some time, calling it histoire de mentalités or the history of common people or, in Germany, Historische Anthropologie. Noting that [End Page 271] the interweaving of anthropology and history has a long methodological history in Latin America, they offer examples of this tradition by reaching back to the work of Eric Wolf and many who followed him over the next two decades: Charles Gibson, Robert Padden, Nathan Wachtel, Steven Stern, Alberto Flores Galindo, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, and Manuel Burga, to name a few. The Introduction ends with a discussion of the cultural history debates, briefly offering the limits and possibilities argued by partisans and detractors alike. Essays illustrating this theme are set in the two regions where the disciplines have met often, Mesoamerica and the Andes.
The twelve chapters fall into two groups. The first three display the thinking of three experienced scholars on the main theme. Manuel Burga questions the conflictual framework used for studies of Andean cultural survival and modernization; Enrique Florescano notes that historical memory, oral and written, has served to construct the collective identity of the altepetl of Mesoamerican peoples; and, contrariwise, Penelope Harvey sees limits on archival digging for the study of bilingualism as a seductive fruit of state education, or the permeation of a national ideology through this institution. Thus the sides are drawn. The remaining essays, balanced around Barbara Potthast's discussion of the colonial origins of Paraguayan nineteenth-century elite ethnic nationalism, are evenly divided between the colonial and republican eras. Karoline Noack relates a case of sixteenth-century midwifery, Otto Danwerth studies early indigenous huaquería, Magdalena Chocano applies linguistic analysis to seventeenth-century Mexican sermons, Wiebke von Deylen retreads the idyllic mythification of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican life as revealed in late eighteenth-century Cholula; and Peter Fleer sifts through classic anthropological field notes to describe the early nineteenth-century "indigenous peasant" economy of western highland Guatemala. Stephan Scheuzger examines contradictions between the Mexican left's view of Indians and Revolutionary integration policy. Studying early Ecuador, Federica Morelli values symbols and rituals over vote counts to extract meaning from voter behavior in an era of "classical liberalism" (p. 152), and Thomas Fischer links early twentieth-century national debates on drugs to the national cultural project in Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru.
The intended audience for this volume is unclear. Much of the ground worked by the writers has been trod heavily in the past. The empirical studies, largely the product of early graduate research, make limited use of archival materials and oral techniques, and much of the published research cited in the notes will be very familiar to English-speaking scholars. Perhaps the essays might be most useful to young students on the cusp of deciding whether or not to advance further along the path toward specialization.
Vincent C. Peloso
Washington, D. C.