These two volumes are recent additions to a growing series of historical dictionaries on individual Latin American countries, all appearing with the same imprint and under the editorial direction of A. Curtis Wilgus. Both authors have spent time in the countries they have written about; both books recognize the fact that for Central American nations an historical dictionary must include people and events beyond the borders of the single country under scrutiny.
Dr. Flemion’s slim volume on El Salvador is a useful finder’s guide to people, places, and institutions Salvadoran. Although quite valuable as a geographical locator, the book is less successful with biographical data. Individual listings frequently omit birthdate, deathdate, or both. The author’s emphases are somewhat unusual: Frederick Chatfield and Rafael Carrera receive equal treatment; Manuel José Arce and José Matías Delgado also are given equal space, but about twice that given Chatfield and Carrera. There is a useful listing of the many efforts at reunification in Central America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and a listing of the wars that El Salvador has participated in. A helpful series of items gives full titles for many of the alphabetical abbreviations in common use in El Salvador. The book has a bibliography that is inadequate and somewhat outdated, and it is not free of typographical errors.
Dr. Meyer’s volume on Nicaragua is a considerably more ambitious undertaking than the El Salvador historical dictionary. He specifies four categories of entries: geographical, historical, people as individuals, and cultural aspects. The geographical-locational entries are valuable and useful, but the historical entries are less satisfactory. For example, a reader unfamiliar with colonial Spanish America would be misled by the entry under audiencia. In the introduction Dr. Meyer states, with regard to the listing of individuals: “Unfortunately, space confines the individual choices to the exemplary rather than the exhaustive, so that many, many people who would have added to the color and significance of the whole have had to be left out” (p. xi). Almost 500 pages of text follow this statement, and while the author has construed Nicaragua broadly, the results are more than slightly distorted. There are many entries on the Mosquito kingdom and protectorate, the British personnel involved in it and its Jamaica connections, and there also is a stress on William Walker, his 58 “Immortals,” “Commodore” Cornelius Valderbilt, and the Accessory Transit Company. The many canal schemes for Nicaragua all are listed, as are the Americans involved with them and with the twentieth-century American interventions in Nicaragua. The author shows that he is up-to-date by the inclusion of a half page on Howard Hughes. Yet the book has much of value on Nicaragua and 28 illustrations, some quite interesting. The extensive bibliography is insufficiently selective and includes many outdated items. It is followed by a list of maps of Nicaragua.
These two compendia are useful additions to the material available to the profession, within their obvious limitations, but are not unflawed.