Social historians, studying a segment or group of a society, are often forced, because of a lack of information, to ignore the larger universe within which one group functioned. For students of late colonial and early independence in the Río de la Plata, this problem has now been ameliorated. Buenos Aires: Su gente, written under the direction of César García Belsunce, draws on two major censuses, those of 1810 for the city of Buenos Aires and of 1815 for the surrounding rural areas, and three partial censuses, 1806-1807, 1822, 1827, to describe the population and to survey changes in this population over a thirty-year period. The early chapters of this book are especially valuable for the corrected aggregate data which they contain.

Although the book is an important contribution to Argentine social history, especially for the rich data it provides, there are unfortunately serious defects in the study. The team undertook this study without the aid of a computer, first looking at 64,000 cases to reach their findings, and later confusing what claims to be a sample with a specific section of the universe. A well-drawn sample of the population might have greatly simplified the handling of the data. As a result of mechanical limitations, the study tends to ignore potentially meaningful multivariate relationships; both text and appendices are frustrating because of the information they fail to provide. Tantalizing sections dealing with age distribution, sex, civil state, race, nationality, and occupation present aggregate totals, but fail to relate one variable to another. For example, the chapter on immigration discusses movement to the city from other parts of the Río de la Plata, America and Europe, but does not analyze immigrants in terms of age, sex, occupation, marital status or nativity of spouse, variables which would provide additional insight into the economic and social importance of these newcomers.

Throughout the book, as well, there is a tendency to intersperse the text with tables and charts which are often difficult to comprehend, misleading, or lacking in vital information. One of the tables (p. 99), for example, presents information on Europeans in Buenos Aires, but fails to provide the data on immigrants as either a percent of the total population, or of the total white population. This poorly conceived table soon leads to a discussion of the “strikingly large numbers of Italians who were already in Buenos Aires at the beginning of the century.” But checking back to the figures presented by the study itself, the “strikingly large” Italian group is barely twelve percent of the total European-born population which is itself less than five percent of the city’s population.

Among a number of other problems with this study is a discussion of occupation which begins by exempting all women, both free and slave, from the economically active labor force. This disregard for working women—laundresses, wetnurses, midwives and, most importantly, the more than forty-two percent of the slave population—is disturbing. Indeed, a later although somewhat cursory discussion of female occupations found in the 1810 census, is surprising for the number of occupations mentioned. Comparison of the number of working females with other occupational lists strongly suggests an under-registration of women as workers, a problem also found in the 1778 census of the city which the authors fail to consider. Another problem arises in the chapter on the family which fails to consider a host of important social variables related to the head of household (such as age, race, occupation, sex, homeownership, proximity to kin). In addition, the discussion of family is limited to four classifications which do not differentiate between male and female heads of households and entirely ignore single persons living alone or in groups.

Although Buenos Aires: Su gente has serious problems in both the presentation and interpretation of material, the first effort at quantitative social history by this Argentine group must be commended for pointing the way to future, productive research while providing important aggregate information.