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The Americas 60.4 (2004) 670-672

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Historia de la vida privada en la Argentina. By Ricardo Cicerchia. Buenos Aires: Editorial Troquel, 1998. Pp. 281. Illustrations. Notes. No price.
Historia de la vida privada en la Argentina. Desde la Constitución de 1853 hasta la crisis de 1930. By Ricardo Cicerchia. Buenos Aires: Editorial Troquel, 2001. Pp. 207. Illustrations. Notes. No price.

Private life, quotidian life, and material life have become attractive and provocative dimensions of the historical narrative. The most traditional historiography from time to time took note of these dimensions but never developed it in a consistent manner. In the last two decades a new subfield emerged in which cultural and social history are in close conversation. The Histoire de la Vie Privée, a multivolume and collective enterprise first published in French at the end of the 1980s, has been a pioneering effort for some areas of Western Europe and clear evidence of the state of the art for these shadowy dimensions of the individual and collective experience. It has also been a notable publishing success with quick translations into other languages. Both the relevancy of these new topics as well as their publishing success fed the agenda of other presses interested in replicating the French story but for different national contexts. By the end of the 1990s two histories of the "private life" in Argentina and one of the "quotidian life" in Buenos Aires had came out. All of them, including Cicerchia's books, are useful contributions to this new subfield, while revealing the need for more substantial basic research and suggesting inspiring windows for future works.

Cicerchia's two books are the first of a three-volume project. Volume one covers the period that begins with the creation of the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata in 1776 and ends with the fall of Rosas in 1852. Volume two deals with the second half of the nineteenth century up to the 1930 crisis. Both offer a well written and jargon-free narrative that takes advantage of many of the sources currently used in cultural and social history, such as criminal records, census counts, maps, paintings, photographs, travelers' accounts, comics, personal diaries, literary excerpts, and oral history. They also make good and imaginative use of the available secondary materials that were not originally conceived as discussions of private life but proved to be essential to Cicerchia's analysis. Both volumes open with a sweeping introduction followed by chapters focused on more specific problems the author judged relevant [End Page 670] for a history of private life. The way in which these problems are discussed is quite consistent: a general presentation of a cultural problem, mainly referring to French scholarly production, followed by a more detailed and narrow discussion that tries to emphasize an "Argentine" dimension and is oftentimes articulated around the life trajectories of ordinary people. Throughout, there are well-chosen and abundant illustrations that engage in a very fruitful dialogue with the text.

The first volume discusses, among others topics, the domestic universe and family conflicts. Here we encounter clothing and hygiene as evidence of the making of a certain social sensibility; food and the kitchen as a key space to the reproduction of family life; the organization of time in a period during which the disciplinary process is in its very beginnings; women's experiences in a patriarchal society and their ability to contest, albeit modestly, some dimensions of the status-quo. By far the most convincing discussion is that which deals with family conflicts, a topic for which Cicerchia uses his own primary research. Reviewing issues such as the abandonment of children, infidelity, family law, and the size of families the author underlines how resistant family organization, sexuality and household discipline have been in the face of political efforts launched by the state during both the Bourbon colonial period and the first decades after independence. The second volume offers a very engaging but less innovative...


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