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  • Disciplinary Conquest: U.S. Scholars in South America, 1900–1945 by Ricardo D. Salvatore
  • Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt
Disciplinary Conquest: U.S. Scholars in South America, 1900–1945. By Ricardo D. Salvatore (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016. xxi plus 329 pp. $26.95).

Ricardo Salvatore’s aptly named Disciplinary Conquest is a welcome contribution to the recently revitalized subfields of intellectual history and the history of the human sciences in Latin America. Salvatore provides intriguing accounts of the work of five early-twentieth-century US social scientists who worked in South America: Hiram Bingham, who led the Yale Peruvian Expedition and “discovered” Machu Picchu; historian Clarence H. Haring of Harvard University; political scientist Leo S. Rowe, best known for his role as director of the Pan-American Union; geographer and statesman Isaiah Bowman; and Columbia University sociologist Edward A. Ross.

Salvatore’s main, and quite provocative, argument is that the social sciences furthered a two-fold US “conquest” of South America. Building on the work of James C. Scott, Salvatore suggests that the disciplines themselves “conquered” through their totalizing and systematizing gazes. US scholars visualized their [End Page 195] work as a way of affirming their authority over their objects of study. They drew broad lessons from their forays abroad and created universalizing theories that ratified their ability to “see” comprehensively and apprehend what they saw. At the same time, the disciplines fostered a broader “US economic, technological, and cultural hegemony” that extended “US hemispheric diplomacy through other [non-military] means.” The social sciences, Salvatore proposes, could therefore “be considered ancillary activities in the making of US imperial hegemony” (1–2).

Salvatore also makes a number of smaller, but still crucial, interventions. First, he counters the argument that Latin American Studies emerged during the Cold War by establishing that interdisciplinary interest in the region took hold during the interwar years. Second, he argues for what he calls the “great divide” between South America, on the one hand, and the Caribbean and Central America, on the other. The US used military might in the latter, while in the former—and especially in the ABC countries of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile— it deployed softer forms of informal, cultural influence. Moreover, scholars characterized the South American nations as more similar to the United States and more able to adopt modern technological innovations and modern standards of political democracy and economic development. In making this argument about the “great divide,” however, Salvatore at times conflates South America and the ABC countries. One wonders where Peru and the other non-ABC countries of South America sat in relation to the great divide.

Some of Salvatore’s formulations are more convincing than others. Perhaps least satisfying are the places in the book where the author equates his subjects’ use of the language of conquest with conquest itself. Salvatore also assumes that control over ideas or intellectual mastery was similar to political control or economic exploitation, a viewpoint that merits a fuller consideration. The author’s claim that US scholarship buttressed soft US power in an era of Pan-Americanism is wholly believable given that the US academic turn toward Latin America emerged as Europe became embroiled in the First World War and US influence in Latin America grew. Yet Salvatore’s arguments veer at times toward a functionalist understanding of the relationship of the academic disciplines to both US government hegemony and the economic interests of US corporations. One wonders exactly how scholars’ work contributed to the buttressing of US power. Salvatore’s account of how scholarly ideas were put to use by the US government or US corporations is thin. And to what extent did the actual effects of disciplinary knowledge match the desires of its practitioners?

While Salvatore is no doubt right to assert that the agenda of the social sciences was, and is, mightily shaped by the concerns of the state, the work of his subjects was also shaped by other factors he does not fully consider, including their personal political proclivities, their involvement in academic communities, and their experiences in the field. We learn that Rowe’s participation in US progressive politics shaped his observations and that his extended stay...


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pp. 195-197
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