Journal of World History 13.2 (2002) 520-522
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The Problem of Persistence in Latin American History
Colonial Legacies: The Problem of Persistence in Latin American History. Edited by JEREMY ADELMAN. New York: Routledge, 1999. Pp. xii + 318. $22.99 (paper).
In 1995, a gathering of historians at Princeton celebrated the silver anniversary of the publication of Barbara and Stanley Stein's The Colonial Heritage of Latin America. The book, widely read in survey courses on Latin America in the 1970s, introduced a generation of students to some basic historical arguments in support of dependency theory. The celebratory conference produced this collection of essays.
Students of world history will find the opening chapters of interest, as the authors reject Eurocentricism in favor of an Atlantic view embracing the complexities of three diverse continents. Building on the "ecohistory" of Alfred Crosby, Philip Curtin wrestles with African origins of disease and revisits his own work on the plantation complex in an effort to demonstrate that—beyond their seafaring abilities—Europeans did not obtain structured hegemony in the West until after the Industrial Revolution. Robert Tignor convincingly argues that, even after the Industrial Revolution, European views of Africa were at least partly defined by the "otherness" of the American encounters centuries earlier. Barbara and Stanley Stein themselves recount how New World silver financed Imperial Spain's wars, even while the silver itself filtered into the broader European economy.
Two of the collection's essays address historiography. After an overview of the structuralist interpretation that has dominated Brazilian colonial historiography, Stuart Schwartz examines new trends and challenges in the subfield. The dominant paradigm, with its emphasis on commercial capital, African slavery, and mercantilist trade, rested on the works of Gilberto Freyre, Roberto Simonsen, and Caio Prado Júnior, and lent itself naturally to the emergence of economics-oriented dependency theory. More recent social and cultural histories have churned up the historiographical waters, however, with their focus on interior Brazil and heretofore neglected social groups, such as women. The theoretical notions underpinning colonial Brazilian history have also changed, as a younger generation of historians grew frustrated with the "inability of the dependentista paradigm to incorporate local human agency" (p. 189).
That original paradigm is further explored by Joseph Love who reflects upon the work of Brazilian economist Celso Furtado. Influenced by economists Raúl Prebisch and John Maynard Keynes, Furtado provided insightful analysis of colonial Brazil's economy, then concerned himself with cyclical patterns of development into the mid-twentieth [End Page 520] century era of Brazilian industrialization. He also tackled questions of uneven internal development, owing an intellectual debt to Hans W. Singer as he sought to explain the lagging conditions of the Brazilian northeast. Love's contribution elevates Furtado's historicism to a par with that of Prebisch's work as a precursor to dependency theory.
Other essays round out the collection and pull it in different, but generally appropriate, directions. Tulio Haperín Donghi sweeps through the breadth of Argentine intellectual history in a beautifully written piece that reflects on how thinkers have weighed the meaning of their nation's distinctive past. With grinding logic, Richard Salvucci bases an analysis of rural development in Bourbon Mexico on the admittedly less-than-certain assumption of low agricultural productivity. Robert Patch nuances the origins of dependency by weighing social factors in a revisit of Mayan domains. And Steve Stern questions simplistic linear notions of time by presenting a half-dozen theses regarding our understanding of the historical significance of Latin American colonialism.
Reasonably cogent, this anthology still does not escape some of the pitfalls of using conference papers as inspiration for a book. While its editor, Jeremy Adelman, provides an adequate introduction, it lacks a conclusion. The final piece, by twentieth-century historian Michael Jiménez, is stimulating in its own right, but quite disconnected from the rest of the volume. Jiménez stresses the importance of the decline of the middle class in understanding the present critical juncture of world history. He contends, rightly, that...