- Chile y algo más. Estudios de historia latinoamericana
Chile y algo más was published in recognition of Arnold J. Bauer’s numerous contributions to Chilean and Latin American historiography over the last four decades. He is especially well known for his 1975 book Chilean Rural Society from the Spanish Conquest to 1930, which was published in translation in Chile in 1994. Just after the publication of Chile y algo más Bauer was named to Chile’s prestigious Order of Merit (Orden al Mérito Docente y Cultural Gabriela Mistral), an honor bestowed on individuals who make outstanding contributions to the advancement of the nation’s education [End Page 152] or culture. The book presents a group of five essays and one long excerpt on a variety of topics ranging from relations between landowners and peasants in Chile to the milling of corn in Mexico to the Church’s role in the Spanish colonial economy to the longue durée history of consumption and material culture. In addition, the book includes a wonderful personal reflection written by Bauer specifically for this volume and an appendix containing 13 of his book reviews.
Bauer’s main interest in Chilean history is the countryside. In his view, Chilean rural society underwent a relatively late transition to modern, capitalist agriculture and, accordingly, social relations in the countryside were essentially defined by “colonial” features until at least 1850. According to Bauer, even during the decades of political turbulence and labor activism that followed the Great Depression elsewhere in Latin America the traditional ties between Chilean landowners and the rural laborers who lived on their estates (known in Chile as inquilinos) remained strong, neutralizing any potential agrarian reform movement. Only when the alliance between the landowners and the urban-industrial populists broke down in the 1960s, he argued, was agrarian reform initiated.
The book also captures Bauer’s interests in the wider world of Mesoamerican and Andean rural social history. The most enjoyable of these essays for me was a highly original one focusing on “el régimen de la tortilla” in Mexico. Bauer argued that the long-term absence of technological innovation with regard to the milling of corn (nixtamal) for tortillas had a powerful impact on Mexican history. Utilizing a comparative perspective spanning 5,000 years, he explains some of the historical and technological differences between “corn cultures” and “wheat cultures.” He also draws a provocative, though tentative, conclusion about the late arrival of commercial corn milling operations in Mexico and its influence on women’s participation in the labor market.
The other essays included in the book offer interesting insights into the history of Latin American rural society. His essay on the Church’s role as both producer and consumer of wealth in colonial and postcolonial Spanish America made me think about the nineteenth-century liberals’ attacks on Church property in a new way. The essay comparing the colonial economies of New Spain and Peru includes an excellently contextualized discussion of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo’s efforts to put Peru’s economic house in order for the crown.
I do have one bone to pick with Bauer. Whereas his view of Chilean rural society is nuanced by his great feel for the sources, I cannot say the same for his view of urban society, specifically that of Santiago around the year 1850. In Bauer’s 1975 study, which is excerpted in this volume, he examined both the countryside and the capital ca.1850; however, what he said about Santiago did not, in my view, capture the intellectual dynamism or popular political energy of that time and place. This can be explained, at least partially, by the fact that Bauer does not seem to be interested in politics whatsoever, which is understandable given the kind of history he has practiced but which puts him at odds with the recent historiographical turn among historians of [End Page 153] nineteenth-century Latin America. My...