The Americas 59.3 (2003) 430-432
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Professor Juan Carlos Garavaglia, director of Paris's prestigious École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, offers us in this book the synthesis of his original research on the rural history of the Río de la Plata. The book corresponds to, and documents quite thoroughly, some of the historiographical developments already identified in a classic review of the literature published seven years ago by Garavaglia himself and Jorge D. Gelman, a researcher at Buenos Aires's Instituto Ravignani (Latin American Research Review 30, no. 3, 1995). At the time, the authors noted that the most innovative academic work suggested the existence of a diversified agrarian economy in the Río de la Plata region in the late colonial era. This complex agrarian society included not only gauchos and estancieros but a host of small-scale farmers and herders, a thriving wheat economy in the Buenos Aires market, and a steady supply of slaves. Garavaglia's current monograph echoes several of these themes and offers more insights into the environmental, demographic, technological, and economic dimensions of life in rural Buenos Aires in the period from 1700 to 1830. [End Page 430]
Using a rich array of sources, including an extensive series of tithe registries and a sample of 400 probate records, Garavaglia gives us a comprehensive yet nuanced overview of the dynamics of rural life at the time. In the best French tradition, he pauses over the geographical and ecological diversity of the pampa and examines the botanical, biological, and climatic transformations that turned it into a fertile prairie. He also looks at the process of occupation of the pampa's space, especially the areas neighboring Buenos Aires. He goes on to examine the demographic profile of the region up to 1869, a date beyond the original framework of his study. Along with an evaluation of demographic growth, he notes the area's ethnic and socio-occupational complexity and examines the life cycle of diverse family groups. This portion of his research makes it evident that a more appropriate title for the book would have been 'the people' of the pampa. Men may have played a dominant economic role, but the region was also populated by women, whose domestic work and participation in the family's life cycle was clearly significant. (In fact, the book's chapter on the subject is titled "men and women".)
Garavaglia analyzes the dynamic relations between agriculture and livestock raising, questioning the dominance of the latter activity over cereal production. He devotes three additional chapters to the study of productive units (estancias, chacras, and quintas), agrarian and livestock production technologies and cycles, markets, and prices. These chapters call into question the "savage" or stagnant nature of productive techniques and stress the significance of local markets. Establishing a middle ground between the opposing views of Ruggiero Romano and Lyman Johnson on the same subject, Garavaglia finds cyclical fluctuations in the prices of agrarian commodities and land between 1750 and 1815 and a strong upward trend in the years after.
The book's later chapters study the families of small independent producers (labradores, pastores) and agrarian entrepreneurs (agricultores and hacendados) and evaluate their reciprocal relations and conflicts. The discussion includes their relations with dependent workers: slaves, peons, and journeymen. Peons are portrayed as wandering less than is usually assumed to have been the case and, conversely, gauchos appear less free than foreign observers alleged. As for slaves, they are demonstrated to have had a critical role in the functioning of the agrarian economy. As Garavaglia puts it, slaves were not merely domestic servants there to "serve mate" to their masters (p. 392). The concluding chapter looks at the negative and positive changes brought about by independence and the first two decades...