This book brings together five articles, two previously published in Colombia, two (herein further revised) which have appeared in this country, plus a fifth, now printed for the first time.
“Empresarios nacionales y extranjeros en Colombia durante el siglo XIX,” is the first of these. Emphasizing the period 1821-1870, Safford shows that Colombians, once they mastered the techniques, were just as given to entrepreneurism as their British and U.S. counterparts. That most failed, he correctly ascribes to Colombia’s stagnant economy. He notes that Antioquia’s revived gold mines gave its entrepreneurs an advantage in having access to liquid capital which the other regions lacked. It was thanks to this capital, rather than to their mythical Sephardic or Basque ethos, that the Antioqueños played such a dominant role in Colombian economic development. This theme is explicated in the second essay, “Significación de los antioqueños en el desarrollo económico colombiano: Examen crítico de las tesis de Everett Hagen.” The third essay, “En busca de lo práctico: Estudiantes colombianos en el extranjero, 1845-1890,” reinforces his thesis as to the practical cast of Colombia’s elite in its efforts to educate its sons abroad in modern business and industrial technology.
The fourth piece, “Aspectos sociales de la política en la Nueva Granada, 1825-1850,” goes far to destroy the stereotype of the Conservatives as having been landed oligarchs, in contrast to the Liberals, so frequently portrayed as upwardly mobile merchants. Safford posits a far more convincing set of explanations, not the least of which ties the Conservatives to colonial prominence in the core cities (Bogotá, Cartagena, and Popayán) and the Liberals to the periphery. He is less persuasive in his treatment of the army and of the Church. Furthermore, certain of the nuances of hispanic social gradations elude him. These caveats aside, this essay is truly seminal, and, in places, brilliant.
The final one, “Reflexiones sobre historia económica de Colombia, 1845-1930, de William P. McGreevey,” is a mordant, factual, and the oretical antidote to that work’s multiple sins of commission and omission. Clearly, Safford should write more than this trenchant critique: he should write what would really be the economic history of Colombia, 1845-1930.