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.
“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.
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.
Stephen W. Campbell
The Transatlantic Financial Crisis of 1837 produced a global depression that lasted until the mid-1840s. Falling cotton prices, a collapsing land bubble, and fiscal and monetary policies pursued by individual actors and financial institutions in the United States and Great Britain were all responsible. A comprehensive understanding of the panic must take into account the global movements of gold and silver that linked Mexico, China, the United States, and Great Britain in complex networks of credit and debt. In the United States, businesses, banks, and individuals declared bankruptcy; states defaulted on their debts; commodity prices dropped; credit instruments lost their value; and unemployment rose amid a general atmosphere of pessimism and an erosion of confidence. The severity of the panic prompted politicians and financial theorists to reevaluate their ideological assumptions regarding the proper role of governmental regulation in an economy. In a larger sense, the panic demonstrated how the expansion of slavery in the United States, British imperialism, financial speculation, and recurring cycles of boom and bust were emerging as defining features of modern capitalism.
Maria Ligia Coelho Prado
The imperial period in Brazil (1822–1889) is central to a better understanding of the particularities of Brazilian history in the broader context of Latin America. Independence in relation to the Iberian metropolis resulted not only in the institutional establishment of the various Latin American states, but also in the elaboration and construction of new identities aimed at legitimizing the nation. In this context, Brazil kept specificities in relation to the rest of the continent, especially by its imperial monarchist regime and by the maintenance of its slave system (until 1888), which was only paralleled in the southern United States and in the Caribbean regions. At the same time, the process of forming a Brazilian national identity in the 19th century was linked to multiple civic and religious, artistic, and cultural manifestations that outlined the great diversity of the country’s social and ethnic life. The writing of the homeland history, the celebrations, official or not, and the constitution of representative images of the new nation played a fundamental role in this process. In the same way, the arts, among which music, literature, and painting stood out, sought to reflect the multifaceted elements that formed Brazilian society. Among the many themes that emerged from this complex cultural framework, one can highlight the conception of a national identity based on the mixture of “three races” (indigenous, white, and black) whose stereotypes and preconceived images established the primary place of the “white” and the subordinate status of the other racial and ethnic groups. In addition to the canonical productions of the imperial literate elite, there is no way to discuss this period without showing the presence of popular groups, blacks, natives, and women, who, even occupying subaltern positions, acted in various ways through their cultural manifestations and festivities, producing their own narratives about the new nation that was forming.
Josefina Zoraida Vázquez
The Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) formed the background for independence movements in the Americas. Great Britain increased its colonial land and was forced to make reforms in order to govern its territory, as was Spain, in order to modernize. Their subjects felt the consequences. Because of their experience in politics, those from the Thirteen Colonies resisted and eventually declared independence in 1776. France had been weakened by its losses and recognized the Confederation in 1778, before drawing Spain into the short fight. Because they were less important than their territory in the West Indies, Great Britain recognized their independence in 1783, ceding them the territory up to the Mississippi. The French Revolution allowed them to strengthen their government, trade as a neutral country, and purchase Louisiana in 1803.
New Spain was unfortunate in that it was a valuable viceroyalty of Spain, and, as it did not have allies, its long and bloody fight broke apart the administration. Upon achieving independence in 1821, it found itself in a deplorable situation. Impoverished and without political experience, it aroused the ambition of new trade countries and of the United States, the uninhabited territory to its north. To populate it, Mexico offered facilities and attracted American settlers, who violated the conditions that had been set and declared independence in Texas, joining the United States in 1845.
Mexico’s political inexperience, coupled with the siege coming from Spain, France, and the United States, prevented the country from consolidating a system of government and reviving its economy. By 1840, it exhibited a substantial contrast with the United States, which had a stable government, a connected and productive territory, and a growing population. In 1845, after annexing Texas, population reached nearly 20 million, while Mexico scarcely had 7 million.
By the time the United States initiated the attack, the result was foreseeable. Various armies were invading, and their fleets seized the ports in February 1847. New Mexico and California had been invaded and annexed, and the occupation was a heavy burden, as President Polk forced Mexico to pay. The bitter peace treaty was signed in 1848, and the United States’ newly annexed territory stretched to the Pacific.