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  • Dependency, History, and Scholarship:An Interview with Professor Stanley J. Stein

Stanley J. Stein, Walter Samuel Carpenter III Professor of Spanish Civilization and Culture and Professor of History, Emeritus, at Princeton University, is a lifelong Latin Americanist. Together with his late wife Barbara, herself an accomplished bibliographer and historian of the region, Professor Stein wrote several books and articles that put their stamp on methods of writing the social history of modern Latin America, specifically on the impact of colonialism and industrialism in Mexico and Brazil in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is fair to say that no one who studied Latin American history over the last 35 years would have failed to engage the slim, elegantly written synthesis, The Colonial Heritage of Latin America: Essays on Economic Dependence in Perspective (1970). Recipients of grants and fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, singly or together, the Steins were honored for their path-breaking studies with the CLAH Robertson and Bolton prizes, the Conference on Latin American History Distinguished Service Award (1991), and the American Historical Association Award for Scholarly Distinction (1996). A member for many years of various professional boards and committees, Professor Stein tirelessly has promoted the field of Latin America in the historical profession both at home and abroad, and much of his work has been translated by Latin American presses. After Barbara Stein died in December, 2005, he continued their joint project on eighteenth century commerce between Spain and Mexico. A monumental study in four volumes that intertwines a study of trade under a decaying Spanish imperialism with a detailed examination of colonial merchants across the Atlantic, the final installment is nearing publication. [End Page 379]

Peloso: I'd like to begin by asking how you got into the field of Latin America, especially at a time when Latin America was not a major part of the university curriculum?

Stein: When I was at Harvard, in 1941, as a graduate student, I was interested in Spanish and French language studies, and when the possibility arose of a fellowship to Brazil, I applied for it. Meantime there was also a course offered in Portuguese. As a result of that course I became interested in the movement of "Indianism" in Brazilian literature. That took me to Brazil in early 1942. I stayed there for about eight months. That's where I met [my wife], Barbara, in the spring of 1942. To make a long story short, we were married in 1943 before I went overseas. When I returned, she had finished her work in Washington, and she suspended further study of the abolition of slavery in Brazil. I decided that I didn't want to stay in languages any more. I was already interested in history, and so I started thinking about where I would go.

I was assigned to the Boston Navy Yard while I was awaiting demobilization, and of course, there was Harvard. I learned that Clarence Haring was teaching at Harvard and that he was one of the few leading people in the field of Spanish/Portuguese Studies at the time. I remember Barbara and I went to visit Haring in his office in Widener Library, and I told him of my interest in Latin American history. That was the beginning. Problem was, after a year and a half of graduate work in history, what was I going to do for a thesis? It seemed obvious that I would go to Brazil to do research in the field, so then the question was: what was I going to work on? I didn't want to do a study of slavery per se; I was interested in plantations. You know, the whole Brazilian problem, especially the problem of Brazilian cycles: sugar, tobacco, diamonds, gold, and coffee. So, I thought I'd do a study of the coffee plantations in the Paraíba Valley, which is where coffee really developed in the nineteenth century before it moved on to São Paulo and Paraná. Well, that's how I got interested in Brazil.

Peloso: Was Haring enthusiastic about supporting your research idea...


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