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  • ObituaryMario Rodríguez (1922-2005)
  • Vincent Peloso

Central America lost one of its most devoted voices on January 26, 2005, when Mario Rodríguez, scholar and teacher of Latin American history, died. A consummate professional and an innovator in the field, El Profe (as his students fondly dubbed him) will be sorely missed. Rodríguez's scholarly career had its beginnings in Colusa, California, where he was born in 1922, a son of Spanish immigrants. Educated in California schools, as a young man he entered the University of California at Berkeley. World War II interrupted his efforts to study literature, and when he returned he finished the M.A. in Spanish and Latin American literature. In 1952, under the guidance of his mentor, Engel Sluiter, he completed the Ph.D. in history. During the war, "Rod" (as he became commonly known) had been sent to study languages at the University of Illinois and the University of Grenoble, France. Once passed graduate work, he entered academe. His first position was a two-year stay at Tulane University, a focal point for Central American studies, after which he clocked longer stints at Yale University (1954-1960), the University of Arizona (1960-1966), the George Washington University (1966-1972), and thereafter coming home to the University of Southern California, where he spent the remainder of his illustrious career until his retirement in 1992. [End Page 95]

Over a forty-year career, Rodríguez was a prolific and well-recognized scholar. His major books included A Palmerstonian Diplomat in Central America: Frederick Chatfield, Esquire (University of Arizona Press, 1964), Central America (Prentice-Hall, 1965), the now-classic study, The Cadiz Experiment in Central America, 1808-1826 (University of California Press, 1984) and "William Burke" and Francisco de Miranda: The Word and the Deed in Spanish America's Emancipation (University Press of America, 1994). There were in addition numerous shorter monographs and articles. The Chatfield book drew enough attention in Central America to cause the Banco Central de Honduras to publish a translation in 1970, and in an unusual move to follow that with a second edition in 2003. Perhaps the best known of his articles were "The Livingston Codes in the Guatemalan Crisis of 1837-1838" (which appeared in a volume of essays he edited for the Tulane University Middle American Research Institute), Applied Enlightenment: 19th-Century Liberalism (1972), and the article that won the James Alexander Robertson Prize of the Conference on Latin American History, "The Genesis of Economic Attitudes in the Río de la Plata" (HAHR, 36:2 [1956]). For some years Rod held ambiguous feelings about that article, one of two based on his doctoral dissertation, especially the notice it received. He was truly proud of the recognition given to it by CLAH but the same article also was cited by Victor Volsky, a Soviet scholar, who mentioned it in a review article on historical trends in the United States as the single exception to an otherwise bland and predictable output of publications without much economic substance. In some quarters this laudatory comment labeled Rod as a Marxist and, given the McCarthyite political discourse dominant only a few years earlier in the United States, made it difficult for some to see beyond the tag. His scholarship continued nevertheless and over the next three decades he published a rash of articles, essays, chapters in books, over 55 book reviews, and historiographical contributions to major bibliographies in the United States and Central America. He willingly served the profession through stints as a contributing editor to the Handbook of Latin American Studies first for "Spanish South America" and later for "Central America," attesting to his determination to serve in as many ways as possible.

Rod's work won him recognition under other circumstances. The Robertson prize was followed quickly at Yale by the award of a Morse Fellowship in History (1958-1959), and a few years later while at Arizona he was the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, which allowed him and his wife, Mildred, to spend the academic year 1964-1965 in Central America. Later he was honored with the Phi Kappa Phi Book Award at the University of...


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