A product of the third Encuentro-Debate América Latina Ayer y Hoy, sponsored by the History of America Program of the University of Barcelona, this edited volume presents a large but very uneven set of conference papers. Thirty-two essays range over extremely diverse periods and topics, employing a variety of analytical methods. Quality varies from seminar-paper polemic based on secondary sources to some original gems. Most of the contributors are graduate students or faculty in the History of America programs at the Universidad Complutense, Madrid, and the Universities of Barcelona, Seville, and Granada.
After a one-page introduction, the papers are grouped chronologically. Two papers on periodization of Mesoamerican archaeology are followed by four in the category of “conquest period,” of which one treats the Columbian fort of Navidad, another the question of the literary genre of Guamán Poma’s work, a third the Welsers of Venezuela, and the last the chronicles of colonial Venezuela. Seven essays address the colonial period, 8 the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and 11 “the present” (some based on ethnographic or sociological research). The volume is rounded out not by a vain attempt to sum up its heterogeneous contents, but by two interpretive essays.
Although the topics here include the conquest of the northwest coast of North America, tobacco workers in Tampa, maritime traffic in Chinese “coolies,” and U.S. drug intervention in tropical Bolivia, plus an essay that attributes oppression of Latin American indigenous peoples to the evil “North American empire,” most of the essays focus on the circum-Caribbean region (El Nuevo Reino de Granada, Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela). Demetrio E. Brisset offers a competent survey of contemporary performances of the “dance of the conquest” in Guatemala, while three contributors (Victoria Borrell Velasco, Manuela Cantón Delgado, and Pilar Gil Tébar) focus on evangelical protestantism in that country. Two contributors deserve special mention. Núria Sala Vila concisely portrays indigenous participation on both sides in the war of Peruvian independence and offers a fresh interpretation of native motives in attacking or defending the crown. And Scarlett O’Phelan Godoy, in “El ‘castigo ejemplar al traidor’ durante la Gran Rebelión de 1780-81,” offers an elegant synthesis of findings on rebel ideology in the great Peruvian rebellion.
No doubt the editors succeeded in their stated aim of bringing fresh debates to a new academic program. But volumes like this are of little interest outside their original context. Given this book’s lack of focus and uneven quality, few readers will want to tackle more than a handful of its essays.