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Latin American Research Review 42.2 (2007) 169-180

Political Ideas, Political Cultures
New Works on the Middle Period in Spanish America
Reviewed by
Sarah C. Chambers
University of Minnesota
Chile: The Making Of A Republic, 1830–1865: Politics And Ideas. By Simon Collier. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. 271. $65.00 cloth.)
Transición Y Cultura Política: De La Colonia Al México Independiente. Edited by Cristina Gómez Álvarez and Miguel Soto. (Mexico City: Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de UNAM, 2004. Pp. 308.)
The Time Of Liberty: Popular Political Culture In Oaxaca, 1750–1850. By Peter Guardino. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2005. Pp. 405. $84.95 cloth, $23.95 paper.)
The Plebeian Republic: The Huanta Rebellion And The Making Of The Peruvian State, 1820–1850. By Cecilia Méndez. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. Pp. 343. $84.95 cloth, $23.95 paper.)
The Case Of The Ugly Suitor And Other Histories Of Love, Gender, & Nation In Buenos Aires, 1776–1870. By Jeffrey M. Shumway. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. Pp. 202. $29.95 paper.)

Twenty years ago, historians of Latin America often lamented that the nineteenth century was a forgotten century. The notable boom in publications over the past two decades on both the early republican [End Page 169] period and more broadly on what has come to be called the "middle period" (from the Bourbon Reforms through the formative decades of nation-state formation) has changed that image dramatically. The books under review represent various currents of that growing historiography. Prior to the 1980s, most histories of the period focused on political events, leaders and ideologies; the first two works considered here continue and advance that tradition. Two others are characteristic of the more recent trend to take seriously popular participation in the political movements and debates of the time. Many scholars following this approach have adopted the concept of "political culture," defined by Peter Guardino as encompassing both discourses and practices through which "people sought to shape their worlds by influencing or replacing governments" (2). Cecilia Méndez does not explicitly use that term, but analyzes political discourses, resistance, and local social relations as part of an attempt "at gauging the political weight of rural Andean society in the shaping of the national state in Peru" (12).1 Finally, Jeffrey Shumway's book fits within an emerging but still quite nascent trend toward conceiving of the realm of politics more broadly still to encompass efforts by states to regulate supposedly "private" lives and the ways in which men and women incorporated the political language of their time into quotidian disputes such as familial conflicts.

Simon Collier was one of the pioneers of English-language scholarship on independence-era Spanish America, and his last book, Chile: The Making of a Republic, 1830–1865 (published posthumously in 2003) continues a tradition of serious and thoughtful history of political ideas. In the introduction, he acknowledges the works on social history and state formation that have developed in recent decades, but keeps his focus on politics and ideas. Referring to a review of his first book by Jean Meyer that such ideas seemed to float in the air, Collier asserts his intention to anchor them in "the political events of their time" (xv) rather than the culture or society more broadly. Therefore, he organizes the book into alternating thematic and narrative sections. Part I, with two chapters, introduces the reader to the early republic and the conservative system established by the 1833 constitution. Parts II and IV, also with two chapters each, follow the partisan politics of elections, congressional debates, and short-lived revolts from 1835 to 1851 and 1851 to 1864 respectively. Part III, which Collier identifies as the core of the book, is composed [End Page 170] of four thematic chapters exploring Chilean political attitudes, "their cosmovisión or imaginario" (xvii) at mid-century.

Collier contends, despite the fiery rhetoric of the partisan press, that...


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