The essays which comprise this volume are the product of an NEH-funded summer seminar conducted by the editor at Tulane University during 1986. They are designed to provide historical perspective for various aspects of the current “crisis” in Central America by demonstrating that the roots of the issues which confront the region today lie in its past. While primarily historians, the participants also represent the disciplines of anthropology, literature, political science, and American Studies. The authors include both experienced specialists in Central America and individuals new to the study of this area. Their specializations encompass such diverse fields as medieval history, North American Indians, regional cultures in the United States, U.S. politics, and literature.

Since the resulting essays reflect the interests and background of their authors, they will appeal to diverse and distinct audiences. Several, offering broad historical syntheses or interpretations based mostly on secondary works, will be of greatest interest to generalists seeking an overview of the region. The chapters which constitute well-documented, focused studies dealing with particular events will be valuable to specialists. Other essays are, in the main, surveys of literature. All examine the contemporary period since 1970, though, in examining themes from this era, each draws on historical comparisons to demonstrate the origins of the issues involved. The papers deal predominantly with national themes, with five on Guatemala, three on Nicaragua, and one each on Honduras, Belize, and Costa Rica.

Specialists in Central America will find the studies dealing with the dramatically divergent role of the church in Guatemala and Honduras of particular interest —showing in one case a focus on anticommunism and in the other the origins of the radical clergy. The essay dealing with rural insurgency contains useful data on the 1960 military uprising in Guatemala, though its comments on more recent events are less well documented. The study of the Sandinista use of culture to legitimize and popularize their objectives by linking them to historical themes and nationalism will be of interest to students of revolution, since the parallels with the Mexican and Cuban Revolutions, while not always spelled out, will be evident to scholars familiar with those movements. Generalists will benefit from the broad surveys of great power rivalry, U.S. policy, and the paper reviewing the distinct role of the Miskito Indians in Nicaragua.