Latin American Research Review 39.1 (2004) 285-301
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Expanding Perspectives on Race, Nation, and Culture in Cuban History
Matt D. Childs
The decades of the 1990s have historically been marked by important changes in Cuban history, whether it was the landing of Columbus in the 1490s, the beginning of sugar monoculture in the 1790s, the War for Independence in the 1890s, or the strategies to survive in a brave new post-Soviet world in the 1990s. While it is still far too early to determine the long-term consequences of understanding what has been called the "special period," or even how long it will last, the only thing that is certain, is the uncertainty of the future. The drastic changes undertaken in the 1990s have resulted in a radical transformation of Cuban society, calling into question and debate the most fundamental beliefs about economic organization, national myths, political goals of the nation, the role of government in everyday life, and even what defines Cuban identity. 1 Not surprisingly, this lack of confidence in the present has opened up new avenues for scholarly investigations of the past. As Cuban society began to collapse on itself without external support, and with the tightening of the embargo with each U.S. presidential election in the 1990s, the 1959 Revolution (as well as its origins and consequences) no longer commanded the huge scholarly interests it had for the previous three decades. 2 Historian Louis A. Pérez Jr.'s insightful characterization that the first three decades of post-revolutionary "Cuban studies—'Cubanology'—proceeded from the central but never fully explicit assumption that the study of Cuba was, in fact, principally the study of the Cuban Revolution" no longer seems to define the field. 3 As evidenced by the books under review in this essay, scholars have begun to turn their attention with earnest to topics far removed from the 1959 Revolution.
In somewhat typical Cuban irony, the economic collapse of the 1990s made it easier for foreigners (especially U.S. academics) to conduct research on the island, while Cuban scholars faced greater obstacles in conducting their own work and publishing their findings. The economic shortages of the 1990s had a devastating impact on Cuban academic life as basic research tools, such as paper, pens, and pencils, became scarce items. As the tourist sector became the dominant force in the Cuban economy, this opened up possibilities for foreign scholars to work in Cuba. Academic "tourists" sponsored and...