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Small islands offer an unexplored vantage point from which the Caribbean can be interpreted anew. The small western Caribbean island of San Andrés can be a privileged site to launch this reinterpretation that shifts attention away from the dominant narrative of Caribbean history that centers on the establishment, development, destruction, and legacies of plantation societies. Comparing and connecting San Andrés with other small and historiographically neglected Caribbean islands makes possible an interpretation that highlights three ways in which these islands played a central role in Caribbean history: as dynamic commercial hubs, as pirates’ nests, and as imperial laboratories.
The control and eradication of smallpox have been among the most studied and chronicled topics in histories of health and medicine, which is not coincidental considering the dramatic nature of the disease, the official measures developed to deal with it, and the declaration in 1980 by the World Health Organization of its global eradication. Smallpox first erupted in Mexico-Tenochtitlán in 1520 during the Spanish conquest, and in 1952 the health authorities and the federal government declared that that long-feared disease had finally been eradicated there. Numerous historical studies have perpetuated the image of a single smallpox campaign in Mexico, free from conflicts, problems, and inertia. Recent scholarship, however, has increasingly emphasized that smallpox vaccination efforts were not homogenous or consistent, that they were not pursued equally in all geographic and cultural regions, and that vaccination strategies and campaigns gradually became less coercive and more selective and persuasive.
With the arrival of the daguerreotype in Río de la Plata, in 1840, the photography industry was immediately monopolized by portrait photographers. By 1850 there were already more than ten daguerreotype photographers in both Buenos Aires and Montevideo, the two main cities on either side of the river. The majority were traveling foreigners, who frequently moved their studios between the two banks. Local society welcomed this new technology with enthusiasm and praised its representational perfection and its powerful verisimilitude. However, the high cost of the first daguerreotypes made portraiture an item of prestige and social differentiation, reserved only for those who were well-to-do. Far from the instantaneous photography of the early 21st century, daguerreotype portraits involved lengthy exposure times. This meant that they were highly staged, according to the attitudes, expectations, and motivations (conscious or unconscious), of the photographer, the subject, and the society in which these works were created. Through expertly arranged costumes, scenery, and poses, the bourgeoisie of Río de la Plata communicated and immortalized the prejudices, behaviors, and opinions specific to their class.
With the emergence of paper photography and the growth of standardized formats, such as the carte de visite, c. 1855, photography transcended class boundaries for the first time. In this period the portrait acquired a commemorative function associated with the consolidation of new genres, such as post-mortem portraits, wedding portraits, and First Communion portraits, pictures meant to immortalize important family events. During this time large photography studios appeared, with new and luxurious facilities, in which the photographic compositions would become much more sophisticated and theatrical.
For the local elite the decision to have their portraits taken was an act of expressing their identity; for certain social subjects, however, being photographed, invariably through the imposition of the operator, and with no agency in the representation of their own image, photography functioned as an instrument of privilege used to construct otherness. During this period the development of disciplines such as anthropology, criminology, and psychiatry, which sought to record and classify everything that did not conform with the normalized homogeneity of the time, made photography the ideal tool to identify those “others” for whom there was no space in respectable society or who fulfilled a negative role in it.
Both Ecuador and Bolivia have gained a reputation for powerful social movements that have repeatedly challenged entrenched political and economic interests that have controlled the countries since their independence from Spain almost two hundred years ago. A wealthy and powerful minority of European descendant landowners ruled the countries to the exclusion of the majority population of impoverished Indigenous farm workers. Repeated well-organized challenges to exclusionary rule in the late 20th century shifted policies and opened political spaces for previously marginalized people. Social movement organizations also altered their language to meet new realities, including incorporating identities as ethnic groups and Indigenous nationalities to advance their agenda. Their efforts contributed to a significant leftward shift in political discourse that led to the election of presidents Evo Morales and Rafael Correa.
Mexico had an exceptionally diverse population during the 16th and 17th centuries, including Indigenous peoples of different ethnicities (in the majority), Iberians, and forced migrants from Africa and Asia, who related to one another in complex ways. Society—a group of people living in a community—was configured differently in each place, based on geographical location, local customs, property distribution, and a myriad of other factors. Faced with such different contexts, historians have tended to generalize about social organization (the way people interacted) from the perspective of the men who produced the most sources. Colonial statutes and official correspondence convey the attempts of Hapsburg officials to maintain a hierarchical social order, but property records reveal a more fluid reality. The acquisition of wealth and achievement of social status by non-Spaniards frustrated colonial ideals for a stratified society that correlated to ethnicity. The success of imperial governance, to the degree it was achieved, depended on its flexibility and how it allowed people to benefit from the colonial economy and to achieve social mobility.
Mary Ann Mahony
For most of the 20th century, a narrow coastal strip of the Brazilian state of Bahia was the largest producer of Theobroma cacao in the Americas and the second largest in the world. Cacao arrived in the region from the Amazon in the first half of the 18th century, and its cultivation expanded rapidly in the 19th century due to several factors, including a favorable climate, available land, labor too limited for growing sugar, and a developing international market. Initially grown by members of the rural poor, including mission Indians, slaves and ex-slaves, by the 20th century cacao had turned southern Bahia into a plantation region dominated by large estates and exploited workers. This economic expansion came at the expense of the region’s flora and fauna, as well as of the small holders who had initiated the sector. The problems associated with this form of development became clear when the cacao disease known as Witch’s Broom arrived in the region in 1989 and cacao production collapsed. Southern Bahian planters attempting to avoid bankruptcy laid off hundreds of thousands of illiterate rural workers and sold off surviving tropical hardwoods. Historians know the region primarily through the writings of cacao-area native and Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado, but the region’s history goes much beyond the topics he covered and offers numerous opportunities for research.
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition of Mexico City was in between 1569 and 1820. Its task was to regulate the moral life of the society of New Spain and it was authorized to punish offenders. The crimes that were usually persecuted were acts against the Catholic faith (heresy, blasphemy, sorcery, and idolatry) or against accepted morality (indecency, bigamy, sexual harassment, homosexuality, and sedition).
The Court placed limited attention to the sones de la tierra (sounds of the land) from 1766 to 1819. The sones were sung dances that were eventually considered unsuitable and were denounced for various reasons: the lyrics of the songs contained vulgar words or heretical or blasphemous concepts, the steps of dances were indecent, the choreography implied actions that parodied known acts of the Christian liturgy, or by some combination of these factors.
The archive of the Inquisition of Mexico is practically the only source of information on music and street poetry in the cities and towns of the colony.
The sones de la tierra are the origin of the current cultural music genre called son mexicano, the most significant part of the traditional music and poetry of the country.
The sones de la tierra of the Baroque period and the current Mexican sones have three basic elements: music, poetry, and choreography. The music is based on recurrent rhythmic-harmonic patterns (ostinato) on which instrumental or vocal improvisations are made. Each determined pattern generates a son with a specific name. Thus, it is possible to speak of sones typical of the Baroque period (chacona, zarabanda, chuchumbé, and saraguandingo) or in present-day Mexico (bamba, maracumbé, petenera, and oaxacado). Some can be documented both in the 18th century and in the 21st century (matachines, fandango, panaderos, and zacamandú).
The poetry of the sones is based on the active principle of the copla, a poetic form based on the octosyllabic quatrain in various modalities (seguidilla and décima). The current Mexican variants are directly related to the Spanish poetry of the Golden Age.
The dance of the sones is performed mainly in couples who dance without having physical contact, using different steps whose main characteristic is the zapateado.
The archive of the Inquisition of Mexico mentions some sixty sones. The complaints and interrogations of the Court provide information about the sung lyrics, the ways of dancing, the people who practiced them, their geographical distribution, and some social attitudes regarding their use. This information shows that the sones de la tierra were common throughout the territory of New Spain and were practiced by people of almost all social classes.
The study of the sones de la tierra allows us to understand the existence and behavior of the different variants of the Mexican sones of today, which represent one of the fundamental elements of Mexican culture.
The arrival of Christopher Columbus in the northern Caribbean with three Spanish ships in October 1492 marked the beginning of continuing European contact with the Americas. With his second voyage of 1493 permanent European occupation of the Caribbean began, with enormous consequences for the peoples and ecology of the region. Failing to encounter the wealthy trading societies that Columbus had hoped to find by reaching Asia, Europeans in the Caribbean soon realized that they would have to involve themselves directly in organizing profitable enterprises. Gold mining in the northern islands and pearl fishing in the islands off the coast of Tierra Firme (present-day Venezuela) for some years proved enormously profitable but depended on Spaniards’ ability to exploit indigenous labor on a large scale. The imposition of the Spanish encomienda system, which required indigenous communities to provide labor for mining and commercial agriculture, and the large-scale capture and transportation of Native Americans from one locale to another wrought havoc among the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and circum-Caribbean, resulting in high mortality and flight. Spaniards in the islands soon sought to supplement indigenous labor by importing African slaves who, in the early 16th century, became a significant if not always easily controlled presence in the region.
From the earliest years the Spanish Caribbean was a complex, dynamic, and volatile region characterized by extensive interaction and conflict among diverse groups of people and by rapid economic and institutional development. Although the islands became the launching grounds for subsequent Spanish moves to the nearby mainland, throughout the 16th century and beyond they played a crucial role in sustaining Spain’s overseas empire and integrating it into the larger Atlantic system.
Spain entered the Age of Atlantic Revolutions (1775–1825) motivated by a desire to re-establish its traditional status as a major European power, a position that its Habsburg monarchs gradually had relinquished over the course of the 17th century and that was lost in dramatic fashion during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1713). Over the first six decades of the 18th century, the newly installed Bourbon dynasty launched a series of administrative, military, clerical, and economic reforms designed to spark and then protect an imperial revival. As a regular participant in the colonial wars of the period, the Spanish crown relied heavily on military strength to signify its renewed standing vis-à-vis its international adversaries. Any gains won by force of arms also needed to be confirmed by treaty and reinforced by positive peacetime relationships with these same rivals. As a result, an assertive diplomacy played an important role in promoting Spanish interests during a tumultuous era that began with great hopes for the restoration of Spain’s historic preeminence in the Atlantic World but ended with the collapse of its American empire.
The Spanish language arrived in Latin America as a tool of Iberian colonization. Indigenous languages struggled to survive under the implacable presence of an imperial tongue serving not only to make all subjects part of the Spanish Empire but also, and primarily, as a mechanism to evangelize a population considered by the conquistadors, soldiers, missionaries, and entrepreneurs as barbaric. During the age of independence (1810–1910), defined by bloody armed movements, the emerging republics in Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean Basin declared their autonomy by seceding politically, economically, and legally from Spain while pushing for a vigorous nationalist agenda that shaped them as nations. Spanish was an agglutinating force toward a new collective identity, regionally and locally. Important figures like Venezuelan philologist, lexicographer, and diplomat Andrés Bello established an agenda that helped define the cultural parameters of the young republics in terms of grammar, syntax, and morphology. Followers include Rufino José Cuervo.
Various aesthetic movements, such as modernismo, led by figures like Rubén Darío and José Martí, helped consolidate a transnational sense of linguistic unity. During the 20th century, the nationalist fever spread throughout Latin America, encouraging educators to establish pedagogical patterns that emphasized the uniqueness of the language within the country’s context. The effort was supported by ethnographers, anthropologists, and sociolinguists like the Cuban Fernando Ortiz and Venezuelan Ángel Rosenblat intent on finding what was local in the language. Simultaneously, each nation developed its own idiosyncratic media, which, again, allowed for verbal peculiarities to be included while also driving toward a standardized form. In this atmosphere, the Spanish language has been used as an organ of control by the state. It is also an invaluable tool through which to understand regional, national, and cultural differences.
By the end of the millennium, a new phenomenon emerged, not in Latin America per se yet intimately linked to it: Spanglish. It is a hybrid tongue used by millions of immigrants in the United States, whose power is increasing as time goes by. Spanglish has the potential of reconfiguring the way the Spanish language is understood in the future.
Throughout the 20th century, the Mexican government used road building to incorporate the country’s disparate regions within the national economy and to enhance the visibility of remote populations. Since Independence, one of Mexico’s most economically and politically marginal states has been Chiapas. Yet, road building and state building efforts here have been inconsistent and contested since the 1920s. As seen in the case of Chiapas, the Mexican government made efforts to use road building as a state building tool and the limits to such work. Road-building efforts in the periods of 1924–1940 and 1990–2015 embodied the specific political, economic, and social elements of the time, and shedding light on the uneven nature of state building during each period. Roads—one promise of the 1910 Revolution—were slow to arrive in Chiapas in the 1920s and 1930s as fighting waned, due to government neglect and to the influence of local elites who were skeptical of integration with the country. It was not until the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940) that the Federal Government began to invest in road building in the state. Yet, such efforts were limited, and Chiapas remained economically and politically marginalized until the 1990s. Following the 1994 Zapatista uprising, the Federal Government began to invest in infrastructure development so as to facilitate economic expansion and ensure national security. Government officials felt that, by expanding the state’s agricultural export and tourism industries, they would be able to co-opt Zapatista sympathizers to work in support of the state’s vision for the country. In 2009 and again in 2014, the government began construction on the San Cristobal-Palenque Highway project, which was designed to achieve these goals. Nevertheless, both times the project faced strong opposition leading to its cancellation and demonstrating, again, the limits of state building efforts in Chiapas.
The Swedish colony of Saint Barthélemy was not large enough to be able to support a plantation economy but managed to gain significant income through neutral trade during the turn of the 19th century. As merchants and mariners migrated to the island from across the Atlantic World and slaves were brought to the colony to work as manual laborers and household servants, Sweden introduced legal and political concepts from other European empires to manage their new colonial venture. The nationality of naturalized Swedish merchants was questioned, especially by the British, who frequently captured ships from St. Barthélemy. Still, St. Barthélemy periodically saw immense amounts of trade, especially in the period following the War of 1812. Yet as war between major Atlantic powers ceased after 1815, the economy of the island dwindled and it was returned to France in 1878. Research on this aspect of Swedish colonialism has been infrequent, yet new access to French colonial archives breathes new life into this seldom-discussed part of Caribbean history.
Vera Lucia Amaral Ferlini
Sugar, besides its economic importance, created the foundations of political power in Brazil, based on the monopoly of land and the enslavement of indigenous and African people. Colonization, structured by the hegemony of the external market, created, over three centuries, a free rural population of whites, free blacks, and mestizos who survived on small plots and subsistence farms dependent on the power of the great landowners. From the centrality of the mills in the sugar world, the patriarchal character of this society, the basis and support of its political power, was forged. Sugar production was responsible for the “geography” of sugar, with territorial occupation by subsidiary activities such as subsistence farming and tobacco in the northeast, and with the expansion of sugar production towards the south in the 18th century.
Reinaldo Funes Monzote
For the greater part of the 19th and 20th centuries, Cuba, the largest island in the Antilles, figured as the principal exporter of sugar cane, a product that dominated the country’s agro-industry. In this way, Cuba became illustrative of the economic, social, political, and environmental impact of basing an economy on monoculture in order to supply foreign markets. This does not mean, however, that sugar cane was the only major crop being grown in the Cuban fields, as there was no dearth of different plants destined for foreign markets, such as tobacco and coffee, or for local markets, such as yucca, plantains, corn, sweet potatoes, and rice, not to mention a long if little-known livestock tradition. However, the dominance of agro-industry almost always eclipses agricultural and economic alternatives that could become potential competitors, despite the periodic adverse circumstances that affect consumers. But, in the 1990s, the production and exportation of sugar suffered an abrupt fall, creating a vacuum that allowed diversification of land use and that prompted a search for alternative agricultural models.
Jeffrey M. Pilcher
Mexican cuisine is often considered to be a mestizo fusion of indigenous and Spanish foods, but this mixture did not simply happen by accident; it required the labor, imagination, and sensory appreciation of both native and immigrant cooks. In turn, diverse regional and ethnic expressions of domestic cooking, street food, festival dishes, and haute cuisine provided affective foundations for rival attempts to define a Mexican national identity. To understand these processes of historical change, food studies scholars have begun focusing on the embodied sense of taste as an important complement to discursive studies of social construction that formerly predominated in the scholarship. Research from around the world has suggested the rise of sweetness as the predominant sensory experience of the modern dietary transition from peasant cuisines dominated by complex carbohydrates and vegetable proteins to industrial diets based on sugars and fats. This was certainly true of Mexico, but historical sources reveal a far more complicated picture of changing tastes. Although the arrival of sugar cane with the Spanish conquest did begin to shift the sensory balance from pre-Hispanic bitterness (chile peppers, cacao) toward sweetness, the introduction of other new foods brought complementary increases in sourness (lime, tamarind) and savory tastes (from the meat of domesticated animals), as well as new fragrances from spices (cinnamon, clove, pepper). New imagined communities arose with 18th-century creole patriotism among Spaniards born in the Americas and explicitly nationalist ideologies in the 19th century, but these were largely overlaid onto sensory and social understandings that assigned elite status to European flavors. Only in the 20th century did the unique taste of the corn tortilla become identified with the national community, and by that time, industrial production had fundamentally changed the tactile, olfactory, and taste sensations evoked by tortillas.
The formation of El Salvador’s oligarchy was a long and complex process. Its beginning can be traced to 1848, when the first export of Salvadoran coffee took place. The first stage in its formation may be seen as ending in 1931, just before the army’s great “slaughter” of the rural population after the crisis of 1929. This long period is divided into two parts, with the year 1890 marking a change. Before that date, although El Salvador was beginning to feel the effects of the Industrial Revolution and the reorganization of the world markets, the country’s international politics were focused primarily on Central America. However, from 1890 on, the business sector expanded and penetrated deeply into the country based on the capital accumulated from the coffee industry. To that was added certain foreign participation, especially from the United States. This is why the period of 1848–1890 is considered the origin of the oligarchy, and 1890–1931 is seen as the formation of this social sector that has marked the history of the country up to the 21st century.
A plausible definition of the term oligarchy is provided by Waldo Ansaldi: the combination of a social class defined by its function in the economic structure and the particular form of government it developed and practiced. The Salvadoran oligarchy was initially made up of the large landowners and traders whose economic power was based on their access to land and labor, acquired to a large degree at a very low price and often through non-commercial relationships. This minority experienced a transition toward a profile with increasingly capitalistic characteristics—that is, a more complex managing class with more and more wage labor, although in poor working conditions. In spite of this, it retained purely oligarchic features in the way it controlled political power and in its use of abundant, though not always wage-earning, labor, so that it can hardly be considered bourgeoisie. Coffee, including its cultivation, processing and export, was the principal (although not the only) basis of the enrichment of the oligarchy and of their political power. The development and consolidation of the oligarchical class was based on their control of the state and, as a result, also of their monetary, credit, and above all, fiscal policies. Representatives of the oligarchy came to control the government through electoral as well as military means, enabling them to reproduce and expand their power.
“Technology” is the practical expression of accumulated knowledge and expertise focused on how to mediate and manipulate the world. Scholars and contemporary observers of Mexico have long characterized production methods there as unchanging and lagging well behind the standard in the Atlantic world, but there are few systematic studies of technology in Mexican history, and especially for the critical 19th-century era of early modernization.
Mexico’s first half century of independence (c. 1820–1870) saw relatively little technological change. In spite of a number of sustained efforts to introduce the technologies—such as railroads, steam power, and iron manufacturing—that were transforming economic life and production in Great Britain and the United States, production methods in Mexico remained small scale and artisanal. Textile manufactures were a partial exception, as there were several dozen large-scale factories, powered by water turbines and occasionally by steam, that spun and wove thread. But the substantial obstacles to innovation discouraged or undermined most attempts.
The next forty or so years, however, could not have been more different (c. 1870s–1920). As political stability slowly settled over most of the country, investment in economic activities picked up, slowly at first, then more rapidly into the 1880s and beyond. Initially focused on railroad transport and mining, new investments from both Mexican and foreign entrepreneurs diversified into a wide range of manufacturing enterprises, commercial agriculture, and urban infrastructure and commerce. Tightly linked to the concurrent dramatic expansion of the Atlantic economy—the so-called second industrial revolution—this expansion pushed demand for new technologies of production and swept across the country, transforming production, productivity, and the working and consuming lives of Mexicans at nearly all levels of society. The result was substantial modernization, manifest as economic growth as well as social dislocation.
Individuals and firms proved able to adopt and commercialize a wide range of new production technologies during this period. This success was not matched, however, by substantial local assimilation of new technological knowledge and expertise, that is, by a process of technological learning. Until the 1870s, Mexican engineers, mechanics, and workers had scant opportunities to work with and learn from production technologies appearing in the Atlantic world. When new machines, tools, and processes swept across Mexico thereafter, adopting firms typically hired technical experts and skilled workers from abroad, given the scarcity of expertise at home. This became a self-reinforcing cycle, perpetuating dependence on imported machines and imported know-how well into the 20th century.
The Portuguese occupied the northern region of South America in the early 17th century. It constituted a separate province of the Portuguese possessions in South America. This province comprised several landscapes, including the vast Amazonian forest in the west and plains in the east. It bordered the other administrative province in Portuguese America, the State of Brazil and also the Dutch, French, and Spanish colonies in the Amazon region. For most of the colonial period, the region became heavily dependent on Indian labor force for agriculture and especially for the exploitation of forest products gathered in the vast Amazonian backlands (the sertão). The role played by Indian laborers (both free and slave), by forest products (known as drogas do sertão), and by the expansion of agriculture and grazing in the eastern plains shaped a centrifugal society and economy. Moreover, the fact that the region bordered Dutch, Spanish, and French colonies transformed the frontier into a central issue of Portuguese policies towards the region.
Luis Pedro Taracena Arriola
The Federal Republic of Central America existed for a brief but critical period in Central American history. Tension in the region between its colonial legacy and liberal aspiration and conflict between Guatemalan prevalence and state independence led to the eventual dissolution of the Federal Republic. The result was a confederate rather than a federal approach to government in which each state was sovereign in its own territory. The period convulsed with interspersed colonial and republican regimes, which reflected the politics of the heterogeneous society of the time. The imaginary unity failed and the new republics emerged, doomed to their own sovereignty.
In December 1801, First Consul Napoléon Bonaparte sent a massive expedition to the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today: Haiti). His goal was to restore direct French rule and overthrow Toussaint Louverture, a former slave who, as governor general of Saint-Domingue, had been suspected of plotting independence. Bonaparte’s secondary goal may have been to reinstate slavery, which France had abolished in 1793–1794.
Bonaparte’s brother-in-law, General Victoire Leclerc, headed the expedition. After landing in Saint-Domingue in February 1802 with 20,000 troops, he managed, with great difficulty, to defeat Louverture’s army. He then deported Louverture to France, where he died in exile. In August 1802, however, resistance intensified as plantation laborers became convinced that the French intended to restore slavery. Leclerc, who lost much of his army to yellow fever, embraced increasingly murderous tactics against the black population until he died in November 1802.
For one year, Leclerc’s successor, General Donatien de Rochambeau, battled Louverture’s successor, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, in a brutal conflict with genocidal overtones. The bravery of Dessalines’s troops, lack of support from France, epidemic disease, and the renewal of Britain’s war with France eventually doomed the French effort. After the departure of the last remnants of the Leclerc expedition, Dessalines declared the independence of Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti, on January 1, 1804, and then put to death most of the remaining French planters.