Jonathan Brown has written an excellent study of trade and the development of agribusiness and their effect on the city and the province of Buenos Aires. His central thesis that the period should not be examined as an example of dependency theories, but rather as one of staple theory, is convincing. The concomitant suggestion that the result of an economy exporting raw materials and importing finished products does not necessarily result in foreign domination of the markets is equally well-done.
Brown presents a most complete picture of the hide and woolen industry on both sides of the Atlantic. Technological advances in Europe are covered, as are the effects of these changes on the market for Argen tine raw material. The result is a thorough picture of various European industries which affected the Argentine economy.
For me, the most interesting segments of the study are his treatment internationally of the cattle and the wool trade and his contribution to our understanding of Juan Manuel de Rosas. Equally good are his treatments of the operations of individual estancias at various points in time throughout his period. Unconcerned with his political presence, Brown presents Rosas as an innovative estanciero and agricultural advisor to the larger landholders. The treatment of individual estancias is incisive and the material presented on their day-to-day activities, economic diversity, and financial structures will be helpful to scholars with quite different interests.
If the book has a real problem, it is consistent overstatement. The most obvious is the title. The book is essentially a study of the socioeconomic development of the city and province of Buenos Aires during the period. Some attention is paid to the Litoral and little to the interior. Also Brown’s concept of social history is limited to demography and mobility.
More subtle but still annoying to the reader are attempts to make his data say more than is justified. His description of Buenos Aires’ growth rate from 1, 000 in 1615 to 2, 070 in 1639 as “spectacular” is unwarranted. Also, using the terms Río de la Plata and Argentina as synonymous enables Brown to include trade statistics from Montevideo and Colonia after 1830 in dealing with the problem of whether or not Argentina had a major trade deficit and is perplexing. In one chapter Brown describes how movement of goods by oxcart dwindled to insignificance because of the increasing use of riverboats. Later he uses a percentage of carts arriving in Buenos Aires to demonstrate how growth is stimulating an internal market for Argentine production. Each of these examples is a minor point, yet there are enough of them to cause some concern.
However, in balance Brown has written an excellent study. The central thesis is sound and well developed. Finally his period, particularly from 1816 to 1860, has been a major gap in our understanding of Argentine history. Brown’s study will help to alleviate this.