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Latin American Research Review 38.1 (2003) 219-237

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Recent Latin American Economic History and Its Historiography

Gail D. Triner
Rutgers University

An Economic History of Twentieth-century Latin America; Volume 1: the Export Age: the Latin American Economies in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries. Edited By Enrique Cárdenas, José Antonio Campos And Rosemary Thorp. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Press In Association with St. Antony's College, Oxford, 2000. Pp. xii+329. $75.00 Cloth.)
An Economic History of Twentieth-century Latin America; Volume 2: Latin America in the 1930s: the Role of the Periphery in World Crisis. Edited By Rosemary Thorp. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Press in Association with St. Anthony's College, Oxford, 2000. Pp. xv+297. $69.95 Cloth.)
An Economic History of Twentieth-century Latin America; Volume 3: Industrialization and the State in Latin America: the Postwar Years. Edited By Enrique Cárdenas, José Antonio Campos, And Rosemary Thorp. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Press in Association with St. Anthony's College, Oxford, 2000. Pp. xiv+345. $75.00 Cloth.)
Progress, Poverty and Exclusion: an Economic History of Latin America in the Twentieth Century. By Rosemary Thorp. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press for the Inter-American Development Bank and the European Union, 1998. Pp. xii+369. $24.95 Paper.) [End Page 219]
Latin America: Economy and Society since 1930. Edited By Leslie Bethell. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. pp. vi+522. $65.00 cloth.)
The Political Economy of Latin America in the Postwar Period (critical Reflections on Latin America). Edited By Laura Randall. (Austin: University of Texas Press, Institute of Latin American Studies, 1997. pp. vii+319. $30.00 cloth, $15.95 paper.)
Market, Socialist, and Mixed Economies: Comparative Policy and Performance : Chile, Cuba, and Costa Rica. By Carmelo Mesa-lago With Alberto Arenas De Mesa, Et Al. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. pp. xxi+707. $77.00 Cloth.)
Latin America and the World Economy since 1800. Edited By John H. Coatsworth And Alan M. Taylor. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, 1998. pp. xiv+484. $24.95 Paper.)
Political Institutions and Economic Growth in Latin America: Essays in Policy, History and Political Economy. Edited By Stephen Haber. (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 2000. pp. xi+294. $18.95 Paper.)

Over the past several years, a variety of edited volumes on the economic history of Latin America have appeared in English. It is enough to make one think that the field has been saturated. Appearances can deceive. Nevertheless, the uninitiated reader with an interest in learning about the long-term trajectory of economic events in Latin America currently faces a confusing array of choices when trying to develop that interest.

The works under review here are edited collections of papers or collaborative volumes that survey "Latin American economic history." 1 Most have been designed for use in the classroom; all have pedagogical uses. The first issue worth considering when assessing their merits is the nature of the genre. Edited compilations surveying broad fields over large geographic areas and long time periods are fraught with promise and pitfalls. The promise is the ability to disseminate important ideas and information relevant to an entire region in concise and (hopefully) consistent form. The pitfalls include the compromises between breadth and depth of coverage, between country-specific and region-wide studies, and between established and emerging research. Each of these volumes tackles these trade-offs in different ways. [End Page 220]

Two other issues need to be raised before assessing the works individually. These books implicitly—but not explicitly—accept the assumption that the region of "Latin America" constitutes a meaningful grouping, and that countries are meaningful units of economic analysis. These assumptions make good questions for intellectual history, and surveying a variety of collections in one sitting may offer insight. Finally, these books represent a distinct divide in how they treat the debates about economic structuralism (or dependency, in its strongest expression). Many of the volumes accept the terms of the debate, if not the arguments themselves; others do not. The division...


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