National symbols aspire to be timeless and uncontroversial. For Argentina, whose fertile grasslands transformed the country into the world's breadbasket in the late nineteenth century, the gaucho, a nomadic horseman familiar with rural labors and the pampas' loneliness, emerged as the emblem of nationhood. A booming scholarship has demonstrated that, far from traditional, this stylized image of the gaucho was invented precisely when the rural landscape was moving to commercial agriculture and modern cattle production and when local elites confronted the challenge of making a nation out of a multinational society marked by thousands of European immigrants. In that boisterous era, writers and intellectuals enshrined the gaucho as the main character of renowned novels and popular dramas alike. Thus, by the early twentieth century, this masculine folk hero became the nation's official symbol, both at home and abroad.

Cecilia Tossounian invites us...

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