Las mujeres en la historia de Colombia is the result of an ambitious project to focus attention on the history and reality of Colombian women. The effort was undertaken with the support of two government agencies (the Consejería Presidencial para la Política Social and the Presidencia de la República de Colombia). The first volume, Mujeres, historia, y política, presents an overview of women’s role, stressing the experience of the majority of women. This is clearly a pioneering volume, and like many such volumes, it is uneven, reflecting varying degrees of work in specific topics and periods. It is nonetheless interesting.
The first half of the book consists of historical articles, ranging from an overview of women in pre-Columbian society (an article that unfortunately spends most of its time rehashing Inca material and gives very little information on other pre-Columbian peoples in northern South America) to a discussion of women’s movements in the 1950s and 1960s. The first half of the twentieth century receives the lion’s share of attention, while the sixteenth, seventeenth, and nineteenth centuries are underrepresented. The second half of the tome presents several discussions of the position of women in contemporary Colombia. Here topics range from women’s participation in labor unions and violence against women to female health issues.
In dramatic contrast to this scholarly work on Colombia, which attempts to focus on the normative experiences of all women, Notable Latin American Women concentrates on the extraordinary female figures in Latin American history. Unfortunately, this book reads like a bad term paper written by a student who failed to check with the professor for bibliography and then compounded the problem by consistently missing the point of just about everything that was read. The result, fancifully embroidered stories about atypical women ranging from La Malinche to Manuela de Rosas—stopping, of course, to consider Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Micaela Bastides (wife of Túpac Amaru), and the empress of Brazil—is often based on dated secondary sources.
Jerome Adams not only ignores much of the recent research on women, he repeatedly quotes material out of context. Trying to stretch out each chapter, he also becomes involved in lengthy digressions that add little or nothing to his story. Women are uniformly presented as good (“civilized,” “life givers,” responsible for “giving birth to entire civilizations”) while men, especially European ones, seem to embody only negative characteristics (“mediocre,” “ill-educated,” “unskilled”). Suffused with political correctness and a systematic bias against Roman Catholicism, the volume is full of bizarre generalizations and factual errors (the author is blissfully unaware that Viana Moog was a man) and illustrated with a map that confuses Upper and Lower Peru.
Perhaps one should take heart that enough of a market now exists for works on Latin American women to warrant publication of a popular book on notable females. Too bad the result is so marred by factual errors, so badly slanted, and so pedestrian that it reads like a parody of women’s history.