This work is the result of a decade of collaboration by a group of distinguished scholars representing all the nations of the Americas. The cooperative project began in 1947, as part of the Programa de Historia de América supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. The primary purpose of the inter-American group was to outline a pattern for a general history of the New World which could be used in teaching academic courses. It was hoped that an exchange of regional insights would result in a more international approach to the study of history than is generally found in the textbooks of any one nation. The group also wanted to encourage publication of studies presenting a broad view of historical trends throughout the Western Hemisphere in the native, colonial and national periods. The formulation of these goals merits high commendation as an attempt to overcome the nationalistic and ethnocentric limitations of modern literature in the social sciences.
The summary report prepared by Armillas focuses on the pre-Columbian period but also traces the later development of native cultures during the colonial and national periods. This approach reflects the feeling of Mexican scholars that U. S. specialists have frequently underestimated Indian influences on post-Conquest culture in the New World.
The section on the native period contains a useful guide to the study of New World archeology with a valuable selection of Spanish and English references. Armillas displays a broad command of the literature on native cultures. It is interesting to note that he classifies as “barbarians and savages” all natives of the Western Hemisphere outside of the Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations. These terms are derived from Childe’s theory of cultural evolution postulating stages called Savagery, Barbarism, and Civilization. Although Childe’s taxonomy is out of fashion among U. S. anthropologists, it is still used by Mexican scholars.
In evaluating this report as a whole, I must agree with Acosta Saignes that it falls short of the primary objectives of the program. The report is not suitable for use as a teaching guide nor does it provide new theoretical insights of general significance for the study of New World history. It is a descriptive inventory of topics to be explored in a history yet to be written. Armillas himself expresses agreement with Acosta Saignes’ conclusion that the report does not constitute an appropriate guide for undergraduate teaching. Rather, Armillas regards the report as “a guide to history, history as he would like to write it.” He points out that progress was made in fostering cooperation among historians of different areas and stimulating interdisciplinary collaboration among historians and anthropologists. Such achievement makes the program eminently worthwhile. Finally, it should be noted that the program has also produced a series of specialized publications, while a general work on the colonial period is to be completed in the near future.