- Nation & Citizen in the Dominican Republic, 1880-1916
Nationalism and the construction of the nation in Latin American history continue to attract scholarly attention and yield a complex, nuanced, and multi-faceted historiography. Adding an excellent volume to the recent growth in literature is Caribbean historian Teresita Martínez-Vergne with her focus on Dominican nationalism at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. Well-versed [End Page 678] in the literature addressing continental Latin American nationalism and the Spanish Caribbean, the author makes an important argument for the uniqueness of Dominican nationalism and how citizenship came to be defined largely through urban criteria. Unlike the mainland that witnessed independence in the period 1810 to 1830 and then the ascendancy of liberal regimes and the growth of the state, the Dominican Republic did not gain its independence until 1844, which was from Haiti and not Spain. Shortly thereafter, internal conflicts culminated in the decision by some members of the governing elite to aid and assist Spanish recolonization in the 1860s. The political chaos of the mid-nineteenth century resulted in constructing the nation as an intellectual and political project focused on state building was postponed until the end of the nineteenth century.
Methodologically inspired by the work of Angel Rama's The Lettered City (1996) and Julio Ramos's Divergent Modernities (2001), Martínez-Vergne focuses on the letrado class, the men of letters. As elsewhere in nineteenth-century Latin America, a self-proclaimed intellectual elite emerged who deputized themselves to direct the nation in its effort to modernize almost exclusively on their basis of their pedigree in education, wealth and political clout. Martínez-Vergne scours through Dominican letrado publications to investigate the discourse these men generated on what should define the nation and citizenship in the name of progress. In so doing, the author unearths in both printed and archival sources a vibrant intellectual debate that has long been over-looked. Her work, however, moves beyond simply deconstructing the letrado class and their self-serving liberal ideology. She includes an analysis of how the elite employed the state to implement their visions of nationalism and how the lowerclasses acted upon and against these new priorities. As a result, we have an excellent combination of intellectual history with political and social history, which all too often escapes the attention of intellectual historians of nationalism who normally concentrate on the formulation of ideas, but not their consequences.
As the Dominican letrados had a "pessimistic" vision of their nation's past, they focused their hope for a brighter future on constructing and reforming urban areas. The focus on cities allows Martínez-Vergene to analyze how the elites, the state, and the lowerclasses interacted through education, owning property, regulating urban space, and political participation. The author argues that cities and citizenship became used interchangeably to define what the nation meant. Here the author emphasizes that the contrast with Cuba and Puerto Rico is noteworthy where the rural archetypes of the guajiro and jíbaro became symbols for a national identity grounded in the folklore of an idealized peasantry. Significantly, Dominicans produced no rural equivalents during the period of Martínez-Vergne's study. In order to examine what she demonstrates and stresses is the negotiated aspects of Dominican nationalism between the letrados, the state, and the lower classes, individual chapters are focused on migrants, women, and the working class. Each one of these chapters stands out as a social history alone of the lower classes. What unites them for her study is how the letrados conceptualized each group as a problem for constructing a modern unified nation. [End Page 679]
Scholars of nationalism will find the explicit and implicit comparative approach most helpful to place the Dominican case within the larger literature of nationalism and citizenship in the Americas during the nineteenth century. With its clear and lucid prose, clarity of argument, and the insightful discussions...