The Americas 59.1 (2002) 125-127
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In this innovative monograph, Stuart Voss challenges the customary division of Latin American history into colonial and modern periods. He suggests that the nineteenth century of the region, which he designates as the "Middle Period," began with the Bourbon reforms enacted after 1750 and ended only with the coming of the Great Depression of 1929. The "fundamental premise" of his argument [End Page 125] is "a spatial perspective" (p. xi), "that the local/regional orientation that underlay Middle Period society" (p. 287) was the key factor in the eventual development of nation-states. Voss argues that these regional societies that were formed in the colonial period reached their zenith in the political vacuum that arose in the war of independence only to be eventually subordinated to a national ordering of life. To chart this process, he takes into account the mechanics of politics and discusses the acceleration of the forces of modernization, the rise of industrial capitalism, and the beginning of a national order of life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which finally eroded the fabric of Middle Period society in the aftermath of the world depression. To bolster this thesis, he has drawn upon an impressive array of published research carried out at the local and regional level by historians of Latin America over the past three decades. The narrative is divided into three equal parts: "The Emergence of a New Society, 1750-1820," "The Uneasy Equilibrium, 1820-1880," and "Passage to the Modern World, 1880-1929;" each part containing three chapters. The result is a somewhat bewildering account in which some scholars may discover highly useful analytical tools, while others may question the value of creating a single model that purports to explain the widely varying histories of twenty republics.
In his extensive bibliography Voss states that García Márquez's novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, is an "allegory of the Middle Period centered on the fictional Colombian town of Macondo" (p. 288). Like García Márquez, Voss has created a unique "Latin American" world in which national distinctions and events are blurred. He does not highlight heroic personalities or cataclysmic upheavals such as the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Instead, history evolves though the interaction of social groups, identified, but not clearly defined, as "notables," "gente alta," "gente baja," and "gente profesional." In Voss's politically correct "world," women, natives, and Afro-Americans as well as the "gente baja" are active agents in shaping events though their efforts are usually thwarted by the "notables" and the impact of modernization and industrial capitalism.
There is no glossary to explain Voss's terminology for the uninitiated, but if one understands his concepts and accepts his paradigm, there is much to be learned about the processes of group interaction, urbanization, and the ways voluntary inter-group associations began to supersede kinship and clientele ties. If, on the other hand, one finds these terms elusive and is looking for a straight-forward account of the "Middle Period" of an individual country, for example—Colombia—he/she will not encounter it here, and, it might be added, that if any country is well-suited to a regional analysis of its evolution, it surely is Colombia. While Voss does occasionally point out exceptions to the general pattern, such as the cases of Paraguay under José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia or monarchial Brazil, in general, throughout the book, the individual groups of whatever region seem to behave in uniform fashion regardless of the varying circumstances of their particular nations. Finally, since Voss himself describes the forces of destabilization and disequilibrium that had begun to emerge by the 1870s, there seems to be no valid reason not to conclude that it is still [End Page 126] possible to make a compelling case that the end of the colonial era really did...