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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.4 (2002) 831-832

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Vida intelectual en el Buenos Aires fin-de-siglo (1880-1910): Derivas de la "cultura científica." By Oscar Teran. Obras de historia. Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2000. 309 pp. Paper.

This book is a welcome addition to the relatively scant literature on Argentine intellectual history. It focuses on five well-known figures of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, namely, Miguel Cané, José María Ramos Mejía, Carlos Octavio Bunge, Ernesto Quesada, and José Ingenieros. Through an examination of their lives and thoughts, it aims to show the various ways in which they tried to analyze the past, present, and future of their fast-changing nation, undergoing a remarkable transformation from an economically backward and unruly state to Latin America's most advanced and wealthiest country by the beginning of the twentieth century.

All five had some reservations about the pace and direction of change. Cané, for example, like many of his peers, feared the materialist striving that seemed to dominate the era, joining a growing critique of the liberal "modernization" model reflected in José Enrique Rodo's Ariel. This included, as with Rodo, a certain amount of criticism of the United States and a questioning of Domingo Sarmiento's call for Argentina to emulate the northern republic. On the other hand, these intellectuals also recognized the success of the U.S. in assimilating millions of immigrants and appreciated the necessity for Argentina to do the same. Along with Ricardo Rojas, most emphasized the role of education in developing a strong sense of national identity. Some also wrestled with the symbolic role of the gaucho as a figure who reflected the mixture of Europe and America that could guide immigrant assimilation, while Quesada stressed the importance of language in this process. With regard to the development and propagation of their ideas on these and other matters, Terán emphasizes the importance of the creation of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires, with which most of the five were associated.

In Argentina, as elsewhere in Latin America, positivism had a profound influence on most intellectuals, and the five studied here were no exception. One result of the positivist impact was to stimulate a study of the social sciences among them, especially psychology and sociology, which they employed to examine in particular the behavior of the masses. In this regard, Ramos Mejía and Quesada used these new disciplines as a way to begin to reconsider the role of early nineteenth-century caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas, forecasting a more positive interpretation of his part in the nation's history that would emerge full-blown in the 1930s.

Each of these men is examined within the larger historical and intellectual framework, with references to how his particular ideas relate to his peers as well as earlier generations of Argentine thinkers. All five were much influenced by various European theorists and these influences are clearly delineated in Terán's treatment. [End Page 831] While the concepts and terminology are sometimes difficult, the individual treatments are presented in a smoothly flowing and accessible manner. The entire study is based on wide-ranging research and the author shows a firm grasp of all aspects of his subject matter.

While the book is admirably organized, the author might have provided a more satisfactory summary conclusion. His final chapter is a brief exposition of José Ingenieros, who serves as a kind of transitional figure between those who were writing in a time of progress and optimism to those disillusioned by World War I and the apparent failure and discrediting of the theories and ideas that had dominated much of the preceding century. A more explicit comparative discussion of the men treated might have been useful at this point. Overall, this is a serious, well-balanced, and thoughtful study, one that will not only be of considerable value to Argentine specialists but also of general interest...


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pp. 831-832
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Archived 2004
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