The Honorary Latin Americanist, by Sarah Backhouse

With the Liberalism in the Americas project now coming to a close, and the digital library  complete and looking marvellous… I thought it high time that I contribute some thoughts about the project and my part in it.

I have been working on the digital library for the past year, primarily creating metadata, assigning keywords to and writing abstracts for the 1000 or so documents that are searchable, browse-able and readable from the web. How remarkable! I wish such things existed during my PhD.

As a medieval art historian, I am used to significant shortages of historical documentation, and at times a complete absence of surviving contemporary textual evidence. It was rather refreshing for me, therefore, to get stuck into a subject that is comparatively saturated with surviving primary records. Unfortunately the digital library can only hold a fraction of the documents out there; for historians this is a disappointment, for me this is simply phenomenal! It makes me wonder – do historians ever have time to do anything but read?

Not being a subject specialist for this project has been challenging at times, and on many occasions I had to make a mad dash for (ahem) Google (definitely not Wikipedia) to do a little ‘research’. There can be no doubt that the turbulent nineteenth century is an immensely fascinating period in Latin American history; yet the political complexities of the numerous wars of independence, especially concerning Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, left me completely baffled. How to write an abstract for an obscure, undated pamphlet concerning a war in a country which had many over the period in question? I was somewhat relieved, therefore, to move on from the wars and begin cataloguing the numerous constitutions of said countries that were published in the following decades.

At times equally confusing was the rapidly changing public opinion of various rulers and politicians. Some rulers of course were universally deplored (Argentine dictator Juan Manuel José Doming Ortiz de Rosas, for example, was the subject of numerous documents accusing him of heinous atrocities), yet others fell in and out of favour repeatedly, causing me much consternation and frantic googling. Antonio López de Santa Anna, for example, was applauded for his part in bringing about the independence of Mexico, but later attacked because of his unpopular federal constitution. Similarly, King Ferdinand VII of Spain was ridiculed during the Napoleonic Wars, but later revered after he was forced to sign the Spanish Constitution.

Such nuances are part of what makes studying history so compelling and endlessly stimulating of course; for my part, they have made this project rather more challenging than anticipated, but ever so much more rewarding.

To find out more about Dr Sarah Backhouse, see her website.

Liberalism in the Americas: Plenary Lecture by Gabriel Paquette

All good things must come to an end, so they say. Although the conference did come to an end, the enormous plate of food for thought that was provided during the concluding plenary lecture made it abundantly clear that historical research into liberalism across the Americas still has much fascinating work to do. Gabriel Paquette, Assistant Professor in the History Department at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, provided a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion to the conference, in his discussion of the historiography of liberals and liberalism in Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula.

As Paquette reminded us, the historiography of early nineteenth-century liberalism has been going through a rich vein of revision and change in the last couple of decades, particularly in the move away from an understanding of Iberian and Latin American liberalisms as derivative, imperfect imitations of European and North American liberalisms. The focus on the ‘Age of Revolutions’, for instance, had created a situation where Latin America’s revolutions for independence and the revolutionary wars in the Peninsula were seen as knock-on results of, or unoriginal hangers-on of the American and/or French Revolutions. A similar framework had been used to discuss Latin American and Iberian political culture as backward and derivative, either because European liberal philosophy had been imperfectly understood by liberal elites, or because liberalism wasn’t suited to prevailing social conditions in these countries. Essentially, these older historiographical paradigms created an image of Latin American and Iberian liberalism as something that was introduced from an external source and was imperfectly applied.

Numerous scholars have more recently overturned many of these assumptions and interpretations, in particular emphasising the alternative modernities experienced in Latin America and Iberia, the dynamic engagement of politicians and thinkers with a whole host of domestic and international political ideas, practices, and traditions, and the creativity and contingency involved in the course of political developments in these regions. In particular, Paquette singled out the recent work of Javier Fernández Sebastián, Christopher Bayly, and Maurizio Isabella in pushing these interpretations further, but the majority of participants in the Liberalism in the Americas project and network are also embracing these approaches too, as can be discovered through our recorded lectures and SAS-Space collection of working papers.

After framing his discussion against this historiographical background, Paquette then explored several core problems that he suggested need to be addressed more thoroughly. Firstly, the connection between Enlightenment thought and liberalism needs to be more comprehensively problematised. Paquette suggested that the connections and continuities between enlightened economic principles and liberal economic principles was less conflicted, but the political continuities (or lack thereof) needed  to be examined more closely. He made the important point that although there were similarities in the political language and policies of enlightened and liberal figures, similarities are not the same as continuities. Moreover, there were more pronounced divergences, as Roberto Breña’s work on the concept of national sovereignty has demonstrated.

Similarly, Paquette pointed to the complicated relationship between liberalism and republicanism as a further area on which to concentrate investigation. Indeed, several of our lectures and workshops have sought to tackle this question and it was clear from those discussions that much research still needs to be done to clarify and unpick this murky question. While an older vein of scholarship treated liberalism and republicanism in North America and parts of Europe as oppositional rivals, in the Latin American and Iberian context, they have sometimes become overly intermeshed in scholarly analyses. Perhaps, as the 2008 book by Andreas Kalyvas and Ira Katznelson suggested, it is more appropriate to conceive of the relationship as different, but organically linked: ‘Political liberalism burst from the shell of a republican chrysalis.’ [1] Paquette suggested that another productive way forward might be to conceive of liberalism as an idiom, as much as, or perhaps more than, an ideology, and to abandon a conception of liberalism as an immutable ideology. In this way, it is possible to study how republic and liberal languages coexisted and overlapped in Latin American and Iberian political cultures.

Thirdly, on a related point, Paquette raised the question of how we talk about liberalism or liberalisms? While new research – and the Liberalism in the Americas project itself – is obviously concerned with recognising and analysing a multiplicity of liberalisms, we must be careful to avoid a situation where anything and everything can be called a form of liberalism. Paquette proffered two important principles necessary to bear in mind when navigating this problem:

  • what we call liberalism is complicated by the demarcation of political liberalism and economic liberalism during the nineteenth century
  • we must start with a clear outline of the common traits and principles that define liberalism (for political liberalism, Paquette suggested: avoidance of arbitrary power; support for written constitutions and the rule of law to guard against arbitrary power; preventing the concentration of power; some model of national or popular sovereignty)

This was a very welcome reminder, as these were also the two clear principles that the opening workshop of the Liberalism in the Americas events series outlined, back in October 2011 (‘Liberalism in the Americas: What is to be Done?’) And indeed seeking to examine how different liberalisms were formulated and experienced across transnational, regional, popular and gendered perspectives was at the forefront of our minds when planning this conference, so it seems as though these are important principles to follow in navigating the liberalism/liberalisms problem as we move forward.

Paquette also encouraged the project to continue with its transnational perspectives, particularly continuing to incorporate an Atlantic dimension together with the hemispheric approach. Indeed, although the “Liberalism in the Americas” moniker suggests a continental restriction on our coverage, we have had numerous participants contribute their Atlantic world expertise: for instance, Linda Colley’s lecture on constitutions and Gregorio Alonso’s contribution to our ‘Liberalism and Religion’ workshop. Moreover, a sizeable chunk of material included in the digital library will relate to the Peninsular wars, the Cadiz constitution, and other significant events, developments, and ideas on the European side of the Atlantic.

Although the conference came to an end, therefore, it was with a strong bridge of ideas for future research and future developments in the project. The focus over the next couple of months will be on bringing the digital library to light, in support of some of those future research ideas. More digital news will be coming soon!

And thanks to one and all for a wonderful conference!

[1] Andreas Kalyvas and Ira Katznelson, Liberal Beginnings: Making a Republic for the Moderns (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 5.

Liberalism in the Americas Day 2: Breastfeeding, Civic Maternalism, Political Careers, Pronunciamientos and Popular Liberalism

Day 2 of the Liberalism in the Americas conference was kicked off by me, as part of a panel on Liberalism and Gender. My presentation discussed the work of José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, an important intellectual in the independence era and in the development of early Mexican liberalism. The paper focused on Lizardi’s exploration of educational philosophy and the social utility of educating women in two of his novels, El Periquillo Sarniento (1816) and La Quijotita y su prima (1818-9). In these novels, Lizardi engaged in a critical examination of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s educational treatise Emile (1762), and outlined a much more important and defined role for the education of women in developing Mexican citizens, than Rousseau had assigned to women, through his description of Emile’s ideal partner Sophie. Also intriguing are Lizardi’s ruminations on the importance of maternal breastfeeding among Creole women in developing virtuous citizens, which add considerations of race to Enlightenment-era criticisms of the use of lower-class, unhealthy, and potentially immoral wet-nurses.

Although continuing with the theme of how citizenship was gendered, Mark Petersen’s paper examined a very different range of issues, and hardly mentioned breastfeeding (perish the thought!). Drawing inspiration from Maxine Molyneux‘s work on civic maternalism, Petersen highlighted how Latin American women in the early twentieth century were involved in alternative forms of diplomacy – through academic and cultural exchanges, international exhibitions, and through international conferences, particularly those dealing with social issues and peace campaigns, such as the Panamerican Women’s Conference in Lima in 1924. He also dwelt on the irony of interpreting these activities as women practicing “citizen diplomacy” in the international arena, considering that they were denied citizenship at the national level, and were therefore prevented from being actual diplomats.

The final panel of the conference then moved on to discuss the ways in which liberal ideas and practices traveled across the Spanish Atlantic (and even beyond, as we shall see). In tracing the political career of Spaniard Ramón Ceruti back and forth across the Atlantic ocean, Juan Luis Simal also traced his politics that moved from radical liberal – as part of the radical comunería interpretation of the 1812 Constitution of Cadiz and as part of the yorkino masonic society and political faction in 1820s Mexico – to itinerant exile in the United States and in France, to conservative liberal, as Ceruti became a member of the moderado party in Spain, which favoured a political system of authoritarian monarchy. Rather than interpreting this changing political affiliation to an unthinking opportunism, as previous scholarship has been wont to do, Simal suggested that this political transition in Ceruti owed a lot to his network of political contacts, and, not least, to the Spanish political world as a whole becoming more conservative across the same time period.

Rosie Doyle, in the second paper of this panel, discussed her work as part of the AHRC-funded project at St Andrew’s University on Mexican Pronunciamientos. During the early nineteenth century, which Doyle described as a period of constitutional experimentation, echoing Jeremy Adelman’s recent talk on Republicans, Liberals and Constitutions, pronunciamientos became integral to the functioning of Mexican politics. As a kind of controlled revolution, which was pioneered by Rafael de Riego in Spain in 1820, pronunciamientos were often the mechanism through which governments or government figures deemed to be tyrannical or abusing their office could be deposed, with pronunciados forming political pacts against them, publicising their failings, and threatening revolt if they refused to leave office. Since pronunciamientos were often followed by elections, and justified on the basis of the target having violated the constitution in some way, this political practice boils down to a transfer of political legitimacy, and was very important to the functioning of Mexican politics in this era of constitutional experimentation.

From two papers that highlighted the movement of liberals and liberal practices between Spain and Mexico, the final paper in this panel, by Guy Thomson, compared the varying fortunes of popular liberalism not only in Spain and Mexico, but also in Colombia and Sicily. Inspired by a connection between two revolts of the early 1860s in Spain and Sicily, which themselves drew inspiration from the Italian liberal Giuseppe Garibaldi, Thomson’s paper outlined the origins of “eruptions” of mass politics in four case studies and assessed the relative success of these popular liberal movements in terms of how well sustained were the more inclusive visions of liberal rights and the cross-class alliances forged during the popular eruptions were in Mexico, Colombia, Sicily and Spain. Overall, through this comparative analysis, Thomson was able to conclude that popular liberalism had a more sustained legacy on the Spanish American side of the Spanish Atlantic (and Mediterranean).

The comparative and transnational focus of the last panel was particularly pleasing, as this kind of analysis has been central to the objectives of the Liberalism project from the outset. It was also the perfect prelude to an extremely thought-provoking plenary lecture, given by Gabriel Paquette, that proved to be a apposite way to round off the conference and look back on the project as a whole.

Details of Paquette’s talk will appear here soon!

Liberalism in the Americas: Plenary Lecture by Nicholas Guyatt

Rounding off Day 1 of the conference was an expansive and fascinating talk by Nicholas Guyatt, Lecturer in Modern History at the University of York. As the author of Providence and the Invention of the United States, 1607-1877 (2007) and an in-progress book on ideas about racial equality and programmes of racial separation in the nineteenth century, Guyatt addressed a range of themes that the Liberalism in the Americas project has been investigating. Although primarily a historian of the US, Guyatt also works on the Atlantic world and is embarking on research that is taking him to archives in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America, and his plenary lecture fully embraced the transnational and comparative ethos of the Liberalism project.

His lecture began with a fascinating exploration of a plan devised by Bernardo O’Higgins, a major figure in the Chilean independence process, to establish a homeland in the west coast of America to which all indigenous peoples could be relocated. There, they would be guided in the process of setting up government institutions and systems of economic development along a more “civilised” model (to use the common nineteenth century trope of positioning western civilisation against indigenous barbarism). In 1838, this plan was apparently sent to the American president, Martin van Buren, who was at that time enforcing Andrew Jackson’s policy of Indian Removal, enlisting the military to assist in the forced relocation of southeastern indigenous peoples, including the Cherokee and Choctaw. Guyatt used the O’Higgins’ plan as a means of highlighting that the disastrous, devastating policy that brought about this Trail of Tears was not the only form of Indian Removal that had been considered in the Americas, and that, in fact, a range of proposals had been made, which were shaped by liberalism as part of a long-term intellectual and political debate that also included ideas and plans for black “colonisation” projects in various parts of the Americas. [1]

In fact, one of the alternative models for Indian removal, proposed by Isaac McCoy, explicitly referred to the process as a “colonisation”, where Indians and the western wilderness would effectively work to “civilise” one another in a new Indian State. All these debates were fuelled by the assumption that indigenous societies would be better off if they acquired core tenets of white American civilisation, such as private property and Christianity. The prevailing wisdom during much of the colonial period was that the best way to achieve this “improvement” of the Indians was for them to live in proximity to white society. However, by the early nineteenth century, there was a growing acknowledgement that the process of civilisation-by-proximity wasn’t working in the desired fashion, and it was concluded that this was because Indians were mainly in contact with the wrong kind of white people – rapacious liquor traders, for instance. The alternative plans, therefore, proposed that in order to become more civilised, various indigenous groups ought to be relocated to beyond the frontier, where, segregated from the corrupting influence of white society, and under the tutelage of an enlightened delegation, Indian society could develop in the desired direction.

Guyatt outlined several features that aligned these proposals with eighteenth and nineteenth century liberalism: the overall motivation was philanthropic; the debate was informed by enlightenment philosophies, aiming to formulate ideas through reasoned, rational, non-prejudiced thinking; and the underlying principle was that governments could and should effect social reform and improvement. A key difference between the proposals put forth by McCoy and similar figures, like Jedidiah Morse and Thomas McKenney, and the Indian Removal enacted by Jackson and Van Buren, was that the latter used military force to implement the relocation, whereas McCoy’s “colonisation” plan was to be encouraged through incentives and rewards. Even more significantly, the Jackson and Van Buren plan was applied to indigenous peoples of the southeast, who were seen as already having been “civilised” through missionary contact and trade, whereas the McCoy plans were directed towards indigenous peoples of the north and west. Guyatt suggested, therefore, that these key differences reflected a significant change in thinking about Indian Removal, away from the more liberal principles informing proposals made by McCoy, Morse, and McKenney.

A second intriguing line of analysis came from Guyatt’s examination of schemes for the removal of black people in the early American republic. Like McCoy’s proposal for Indian removal, these were generally described as “colonisation” projects and were also similar to the Indian removal proposals in that they were rationalised in terms of black people having been degraded by their contact with poor whites, and hostile, racist whites in the northern cities. Historians of the black Atlantic have studied in some depth the establishment of Liberia on the west coast of Africa in 1820, under the auspices of the American Colonisation Society. But, as Guyatt explained, much less is known about a whole host of colonisation projects that focused on the Caribbean and Latin America as destinations where freed former slaves might prosper. The Gulf of Mexico was a particular hotspot for colonisation proposals emanating from free blacks and whites in the United States, which seem to be based on the notion that the Latin American nations were “coloured” countries and would therefore be less racist that the US, and would offer more opportunities for social mobility for black people. Guyatt gave us a few fascinating snippets of the exchanges conducted between Montgomery Blair, an abolitionist member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, and Matías Romero Avendaño, a leading Mexican diplomat, about various black colonisation projects, in which the economic, imperial, and political dynamics of these proposals were also indicated.

The impressive scope of Guyatt’s talk left us all wanting more, revealing the stimulating nature of such transnational and comparative research: the questions went on for some time, continuing into the evening as we had some well-earned drinks and dinner. My experience of two-day conferences is that they can sometimes flag after the first day, as people get a little tired, but the plenary session did a lot to keep our enthusiasm and interest sky-high for Day 2. We’ll all be looking forward to his book on this subject when it emerges!

Stay tuned for details of the papers and plenary session on Day 2…

[1] I will repeat Guyatt’s disclaimer here for the sake of clarity: in no way was Guyatt suggesting that the alternative plans for Indian removal (ie those plans for Indian removal shaped by liberalism) were more acceptable or less racist than the Jacksonian-Van Buren Indian Removal Policy. They simply had a different rationale, and were still premised on the racist idea that indigenous peoples needed to be “civilised”.

Countdown to Conference: Liberalism minus 3 days

What have I forgotten? What have I forgotten??? Just as that question rumbles persistently around a holiday-goer’s head on the way to the airport, or halfway down the motorway, so too does it tend to plague conference organisers in the last days before an event takes place. Catering, tick; AVS support, tick; info to delegates on getting here, tick; name badges, tick; welcome packs, tick; conference paper and presentation, er, well, as ticked as it will ever be…

Most excitingly: access to the test site of the Liberalism in the Americas Digital Archive for demonstration at the conference, TICK! Although some of the snazziest search and presentation features have yet to be added to the database, it was still with an enormous sense of excitement that I browsed page after page of document images and looked forward to using the database in my research when it is completed. Those attending the Liberalism in the Americas conference on 4-5 July, will get a sneak preview of the digital archive, as I’ll be talking briefly about the research materials that it holds and the features of the database that will be available freely to researchers in the near future.

My other major non-organisational appearance at the conference will be to talk about José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, a Mexican intellectual with whose work I have had something of a love-hate relationship for the last 7 odd years of research. He was a major figure in the burgeoning free press in Mexico City during the early nineteenth century, and in the debates about Mexico’s social and political development that took place therein – a considerable selection of his pamphlet writings will be available in the digital library, due to their exploration of key issues in Latin American liberalisms, like Church-State relations, freedom of the press, political representation and office-holding, education, citizenship, and free trade. Lizardi is also famous for several works of fiction, especially El Periquillo Sarniento (1816), widely (if not quite correctly) identified as Latin America’s first novel.

In both his fictional and non-fictional writings, Lizardi frequently referenced and discussed the work of various other intellectuals, many from Europe, and engaged in transnational debates within political philosophy, social reform, and economic policy: the kind of transnational debates that Jeremy Adelman talked so eruditely about in his lecture delivered in May. This is one of the key issues that my paper at the conference will focus on, as I’ll be examining the relationship between Lizardi’s two major novels – El Periquillo Sarniento and La Quijotita y su prima (1818-19) – and Jean Jacques Rousseau’s treatise on education, Emile (1762). More specifically, I want to think about the critical dialogue that Lizardi enters into with Emile, and what this reveals about debates ongoing in the rapidly changing political environment in Mexico in the 1810s, focusing particularly on Lizardi’s explorations of liberal citizenship, meritocratic political representation, and the social utility of education – especially for women.

And, just as I finish writing that sentence, I’ve remembered what I’ve forgotten: mental note, print out paper!

I’ll be back to report on what other people are talking about at the conference in a few days. Fingers crossed I haven’t forgotten anything else!

Jeremy Adelman, “Republicans, Liberals and Constitutions in Nineteenth-Century Latin America”.

Alternative title: The Lecture That Nearly Never Was! Since the beginning of the Liberalism in the Americas project in May 2011, I confess I have been constantly haranguing Prof. Jeremy Adelman with invites to participate in one of the events in our series. I must stress that he was (or seemed!) very keen from the outset, so I felt entitled to pester him again and again (and again) when the first few attempts didn’t work out because of his myriad commitments and responsibilities. So I was delighted and extremely grateful when it was at last possible to welcome Prof. Adelman (Princeton University) as a speaker in our project’s lecture series, at the Institute for the Study of the Americas on 2 May 2013. His talk on “Republicans, Liberals, and Constitutions in Nineteenth-Century Latin America” was stimulating and broad-ranging, examining the role of constitutional debates and constitution-making in the state- and nation-making process across Latin America in the nineteenth century.

Taking in examples from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay and several other countries, and analysing them in a framework of broader continental and trans-Atlantic change, Adelman gave a masterclass in the kind of transnational and comparative history that the project has been trying to foster and pursue over the last couple of years. Overall, he highlighted how Latin America in the early nineteenth century was a kind of “laboratory for global experiments” in constitutionalism. He examined two separate periods of avid constitution-making in the nineteenth century, comparing the 1820s and the 1840s-1850s. To chart several key changes in political concepts and practices between these two periods, Adelman considered the role of changing political circumstances within Latin America as a whole, and within individual nations; the transnational circulation of ideas and ideologies; and international political developments.

During the 1820s, Adelman argued, Latin American elites were self-consciously engaged in an international moment of constitutionalism, echoing ideas that Linda Colley discussed in her lecture of March 2012 on “Liberties and Empires: Writing Constitutions in the Atlantic World, 1776-1848”. Their dual purpose, as these elites understood it at the time, was to make a people and a state: to create an autonomous civil society and to create stable institutions for their governance. Adelman highlighted the multiple intellectual and political influences, both domestic and international, that went into the pot of ideas from which Latin American constitution-makers drew out their constitutions, in a creative, experimental manner. One of the most defining features of this period of political experimentation was the implementation of a wide suffrage and direct elections, intended to shape the creation of republican electorates.

Recent scholarship on the early nineteenth century confirms that this new constitutional era was accompanied with high political mobilisation, which often produced anxieties about racial tensions, ethnic tensions, social divisions and regional divisions amongst the governing elites of Latin America. However, this in itself did not cause the experimental period to end – as we had discussed at length in our previous workshop on Liberal Constitutionalism in the Americas. Adelman identified 1828 as a key turning point, in which all Latin American states (even non-republican ones like Brazil) suffered crises of a fiscal and economic nature, and as a result of political boundary and sovereignty disputes. From a constitutional perspective, the result of these crises was the emergence of a broad consensus that the 1820s experiment in constitutionalism had been a failure.

What followed could be termed a period of “constitutionalism without constitutions”, where there was, in general, a shared commitment to the economics of free trade, a “carnivalisation of power” (to use José Murilo de Carvalho‘s phrase), and de facto federalism, based on political pacts established between provincial leaders. This period was also characterised by a style of governance embodied in the “Restorer of the Laws”, like Juan Manuel de Rosas or, less successfully, Antonio López de Santa Anna.

This post-crisis politics of rule-by-pact was, itself, the experiential framework from which a new wave of constitution-making emerged and, Adelman argued, this had a profound impact on the types of constitutions being made in the 1840s-50s. In contrast to the more optimistic, or perhaps even idealistic, constitutional experimentation of the 1820s, constitutional debates in the 1840s and 1850s reveal a more pragmatic outlook that explicitly drew on the political experiences and changes of the preceding decades to rationalise and explain constitutional decisions, and which also explicitly discussed the “failures” of the 1820s. Influential figures like Juan Bautista Alberdi and Andrés Bello increasingly argued that the “customs” of the people must be taken into account when designing laws, and the laws could then, and only then, start to influence those “customs” in a better (as they saw it) direction. Overall, the fundamental conception of a constitution had changed from a means of moulding ideal liberal citizens – a la the 1820s – to a means of achieving order, stability, unity and progress with the economic, social and material realities that particular nations had at their disposal.

As a whole, Adelman’s lecture helped to tie together several strands that have been debated and explored within the Liberalism in the Americas project, including the role that the transnational circulation of ideas and concepts had in the formulation of political concepts and practices in the Americas, the place of constitutionalism in legitimating liberal states, the tangled relationship between liberalism, federalism, and republicanism – and the alternative political models such as monarchism that continued to play a role in the nineteenth century. The vibrant questions session after the lecture also helped to draw out additional issues central to the project, including the question of the Church, the overlapping nature of “liberalism” and “conservatism”, and the equally porous division between military and civilian spheres in the practice of politics.

Moreover, in thinking about the choice of comparisons that formed the major element of Adelman’s talk (and which will feature in a future publication) – Chile Vs Brazil, and Argentina Vs Mexico – Adelman touched on one of the most important rationales of our transnational and comparative methodology: by looking across national borders, it is possible to unpick and destablise the traditional historical narratives that emphasise the “exceptionalist” nature of the national story in each case. Of course, we are always concerned with seeing how liberal ideas and practices were accepted, adapted, translated, and rejected in different local, regional, and national contexts, but in comparing these different contexts and following the movements and transformations of liberal concepts and practices across borders, a bigger picture emerges that tells us much about Latin American history, the history of the Americas, and global history as a whole.

I hope our forthcoming conference, “Liberalism in the Americas: Popular, Gendered and Global Perspectives” – which seeks to do both these things – can follow the example set by Adelman’s illuminating lecture!

Key Liberal Documents: Beyond Civilisation and Barbarism

In addition to eliciting an animated debate about Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and the Conquest of the Desert in late nineteenth-century Argentina, the recent ISA-hosted symposium “Two Hundred Years of Sarmiento: Backwards and Forwards” also gave me some new ideas about important documentary sources for the project’s digital library on Liberalism in the Americas.

Of course, Sarmiento’s name immediately brings to mind his most famous work, Facundo o civilización y barbarie (1845): a polemic essay critiquing the provincial leaders and political cultures of the Argentine interior opposed to the liberal reformers of Buenos Aires. Facundo was an enormously important work that helped to shape the debate about the nature of Latin American societies and political cultures during the nineteenth century and remains a key referrent for researchers and educators working on this era. However, while it is undoubtedly a key referrent on the subject, the fact that Facundo is already very widely available in print and digital formats means that it is not a priority for inclusion in the Liberalism in the Americas digital library. For digital versions of Facundo, see:

The Internet Archive, available in pdf and other formats. [Edition: Buenos Aires: Librería de Facultad de Juan Roldán y Compañía, 1921], [Edition: Buenos Aires: Félix Lajouane, 1889], [Edition: Montevideo: Tipografía Americana, 1888], [Edition: Nueva York: D. Appleton y Compañía, 1868], [Edition (in English): London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marson, 1868], [Edition (in English): New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1868] [Edition (in French): Paris: Arthus Bertrand, 1853].

The Internet Archive also hosts some other items of interest written by Sarmiento, including “North and South America. A Discourse Delivered before the Rhode-Island Historical Society, December 27, 1865,” various editions of Sarmiento’s biography of Abraham Lincoln, and two editions of Las escuelas: Base de la prosperidad i de la republica en los Estados Unidos.

Missing from the collection, however, is Argiropolis (1850), which creates a vision of a utopian city of the future in the Argentine region. Adrián Gorelik discussed this text in the symposium, explaining how Sarmiento used the imagined city as a prototype for the ideal national community, outlining in microcosm how society, politics, culture and the economy operated in this urban community. The British Library carries two editions of this text: one is a French edition published in Paris in 1851; the other dates from 1916, published in Spanish in Buenos Aires, with a bibliographical introduction by Ernesto Quesada. Which of the two editions would be most useful to include in our digital library? Are there other lesser known works by Domingo Sarmiento that we could usefully include? Let us know in the comments section below.

Two Hundred Years of Sarmiento: Looking Backwards and Forwards

As President (1868-74), advocate of educational reform, and author of one of the most widely known and discussed essays of nineteenth-century Latin America, Facundo o la civilizacion y la barbarie (1845), Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811-1888) was an enormously influential figure in Argentine liberalism. The bicentenary of Sarmiento’s birth provided the inspiration for this symposium, which sought to interrogate the historical, political, scientific and cultural legacy of this important Argentine state-builder of the nineteenth century. Three speakers gave short papers on different aspects of Sarmiento’s role in public life and how subsequent scholarship has interpreted his legacy, and a particularly animated discussion between the speakers and the audience followed. Abstracts of the three papers can be downloaded here.

Richard Gott (The Guardian) opened the symposium with, “Sarmiento: Ideologue of White Settler Racism,” which contended that the historical consensus routinely portrays Sarmiento as a progressive statesman and educationalist, glossing over or ignoring altogether his role in providing intellectual justification and political support for the military conquest and extermination of indigenous groups during the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s. Gott argued that Sarmiento’s advocation of immigration of white Europeans, in order to promote the economic, political and cultural development–or “civilisation”–of Argentina was twinned with an increasing belief in the need to bring about the extinction of the indigenous population of the hinterlands who, Sarmiento believed, were holding back Argentina’s advancement and modernisation. In addition, Gott argued that this aspect of Sarmiento’s philosophy–ultimately, his racism–cannot simply be dismissed as “of the time,” since many of Sarmiento’s contemporaries advocated for the education, or, to a lesser degree, the autonomy, of the Indians, rather than their extermination.

In “The Metaphor and the Prototype: Figures of the “Urban” in Sarmiento’s Imagination,” Adrián Gorelik (Simón Bolívar Chair, Centre of Latin American Studies, Cambridge) also discussed the “Desert” into which the Argentine nation expanded in the late nineteenth century, in terms of the desert’s metaphorical function and relationship with urban space in Sarmiento’s prose. Outlining two major ways in which Sarmiento used urban images in his works–as metaphor and as prototype–Gorelik explained that the desert acted as a kind of blank canvas onto which images of the emergent nation and its evolving future as a more civilised nation could be projected. Within this figurative framework, the city could function as an experimental prototype of the national: the urban landscape and its architecture act as agents capable of creating and shaping civic practices and communities of citizens. In the second figurative trope–city as metaphor–Sarmiento used the materiality of urban life and urban space to reflect on the moral character and universe of the Argentine people and nation.

In the final presentation, “Sarmiento and Science in Argentina,” Eduardo Ortiz (Imperial College) gave a detailed overview of the early institutionalisation and solidification of the Argentine scientific community during, and in the wake of, Sarmiento’s term as President (1868-74). Sarmiento promoted scientific research as part of his general program of modernising reforms designed to improve educational levels in Argentina and to attract a high calibre of immigrants from Europe. Within this overall picture, Ortiz traced the careers of some prominent scientific figures, including Santiago Cáceres, and gave a fascinating insight into the international networks and connections involved in this process.

The first questions from the audience picked up on these transnational and international dimensions to Sarmiento’s activity and legacy. In particular, his ideas about the tensions between urban and rural communities within the nation, and about the competing forces of “civilisation” and “barbarism” in Argentine history, had great resonance with intellectuals and politicians across Latin America in the nineteenth century. Moreover, Sarmiento’s own travels throughout Europe and the United States, as well as the growing involvement of Argentine scientists in international networks, were instrumental to the development of his programme for educational reform, immigration, and modernisation.

The discussion became particularly animated when dealing with the issues raised by Richard Gott’s paper. Several members of the audience, as well as Adrián Gorelik, disagreed with Gott’s contention that the darker side of Sarmiento’s administration and legacy was rarely discussed by scholars of nineteenth-century Argentina. Some also took issue with the idea that Sarmiento actively supported and provided justification for a campaign of ethnic cleansing, while others argued that the demographic picture of indigenous decline was complicated by miscegenation, both biological and cultural, in this era. Gott remained unconvinced by the alternative points of view put forward regarding Sarmiento’s role in the Conquest of the Desert: namely, that Sarmiento did not systematically endorse genocide; and that the “elimination” of the indigenous population was not solely achieved through violent force, but also through cross-cultural marriages and cultural change, which meant that people with an indigenous heritage ceased to be identified or to self-identity as Indian. However, a greater degree of consensus was reached that the topic of Sarmiento’s racial ideology and policy had been given a considerable degree of attention by scholars. The interested reader might like to pursue this topic further, through the following works:

Jens Andermann, “Argentine Literature and the ‘Conquest of the Desert’, 1872-1896,” Relics and Selves: Iconographies of the National in Argentina, Brazil and Chile, 1880-1890. Web exhibition, London 2000.

Elizabeth Garrels, “Sobre indios, afroamericanos y los racismos de Sarmiento,” Revista Iberoamericana, Vol. 63, no. 178-79 (1997), pp. 99-113.

Álvaro Kaempfer, “Lastarria, Bello y Sarmiento en 1844: Genocidio, historiografía y proyecto nacional,” Revista de Crítica Latinoamericana, Año 32, No. 63/64 (2006), pp. 9-24.

 Are there any other useful sources that could contribute to the debate? Please let us know your thoughts about Sarmiento, the event, and ensuing discussion!