In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the global trade in commodities forged new economic interconnections and contributed to the emergence of modern ways of life. As one of the leading exporters of temperate goods such as wool, beef, and wheat, Argentina was at the forefront of these trends, and the country underwent remarkable expansion between 1875 and 1913. Although export goods linked Argentina to consumers in Europe and elsewhere, these vital relationships were often obscured by the malleable nature of commodities, the far-flung scope of overseas trade, and the perceived divergence between rural and urban worlds. Within Argentina, similar dynamics were also at work, but commodities became referents in disputes over economic distribution, social inequality, and national development. The tensions between the export sector and an increasingly industrialized and urbanized society geared toward mass consumption raised questions as to how to manage the nation’s wealth—conflicts involving commodities that parallel those of other Latin American societies. By placing the economic history of commodities into conversation with recent research on the social, cultural, and political history of consumption, this article reconsiders Argentina’s “Golden Age” of expansion and its aftermath. The connecting and distancing power of commodities reveals how populations in Argentina and abroad experienced modern capitalism, including its signature transformations of the natural world and everyday life.
William G. Acree Jr.
Theater in Argentina and Uruguay, which together compose the Plata river region of Latin America, has been a predominant form of entertainment since the 19th century. Theaters abound in Montevideo, while its sister city. Buenos Aires, has its own Broadway in the famed Corrientes Street. In the age of digital culture, the theater remains a mainstay of cultural life for Argentines and Uruguayans. The success of theater and the making of a theatergoing public in the region have their roots first in the variety of entertainment offered by hemispheric travelers to the region from the 1820s through the 1880s and then, most significantly, in shows put on by itinerant circus troupes in the countryside that only later filled urban theaters. From the mid-1880s through 1900 these circus troupes performed plays known as dramas criollos that dealt with rural traditions and explored issues of migration, social stratification, and tensions of economic modernization. These Creole dramas, like the narrative and poetic tales of gaucho heroes that informed them, became wildly successful, attracting spectators in the countryside and city alike, in venues ranging from makeshift tents to the most opulent theaters. They also became the namesake of the circo criollo, which referred as much to types of performers staging the tales as to the circus event where people flocked to see the new main attraction—the dramas. In effect, the Creole drama phenomenon expanded the presence of popular entertainment across the region and consolidated a theatergoing public. It also gave way to a new strand of modern popular culture in which storylines and characters reappeared in other media, and the impact of the Creole drama experience long outlived the spectacle itself.
The 1960s in Argentina was a time convulsed by profound social, cultural, and political changes. Reflecting on the effect these processes had on the everyday, conceived as the spaces and routines involved in the reproduction of life that vary according to social class, generation, and gender, provides a valuable perspective for studying historical phenomena. It gives substance to and evidences the social nature of personal experience. Through that prism, the study of everyday life will be the gateway to understanding the turbulence produced by cultural effervescence, growing consumerism, the expansion of the media, the problems triggered by economic instability and escalating inflation, and the ruptures caused by political and social radicalization and the rise of repressive violence.
Folk Festivals, Community Development, and the Sugar Industry Crisis in Tucumán, Argentina, 1966–1973
In the late 1960s, the sugar-growing province of Tucumán, Argentina, was undergoing the deepest economic crisis of its history. In 1966, eleven large sugar mills closed by order of the national government, then ruled by military dictator Juan Carlos Onganía. The mills closure left a quarter of the province’s labor force unemployed, which, in turns, prompted a massive rural exodus and a permanent state of social unrest. Paradoxically, at the same time, the suddenly impoverished region was experiencing a boom of folk music festivals organized by small cities and rural towns, including those severely hit by the sugar industry crisis. This essay explores the context of the folk festival phenomenon, analyzing the role of town notables and local civic organizations in responding to the crisis brought about by the closure of the mills. The festivals were, in fact, part of a wider effort of local towns to develop their infrastructure and social services. By organizing festivals and fostering community development, local notables acted as a counterweight to the activism of the working class, generating spaces of consent that aided the military government’s plans to reorder the provincial economy.
David S. Parker
In Montevideo in 1923, streetcar company executive Juan Cat shot at journalist and Communist parliamentarian Celestino Mibelli in the atrium of the Uruguayan Congress. Despite this premeditated assassination attempt in front of numerous witnesses, Cat was released, the judge accepting the possibility that his actions were in legitimate self-defense. The logic that led police, prosecutor, and judge to arrive at conclusions that seemed to contradict both the evidence and the law hinged upon, and in the process reveals, deeply conflicting ideas of honor, family, the public versus the private sphere, and the unwritten laws that governed journalism in 1920s Uruguay. Mibelli had published a series of scandalous newspaper stories, one involving Cat’s young daughter, and many Uruguayans identified with the aggrieved father, arguing that an attack on family honor was no different from a physical assault. The only legally and socially acceptable remedy for Cat was to challenge his slanderer to a duel, but Mibelli refused to accept challenges because he considered dueling elitist. In the end, the police report, the prosecutor’s brief, and the judge’s ruling each subtly distorted the details of the encounter to construct Cat’s attack as a quasi-duel, a frustrated attempt to “demand explanations” from Mibelli, following a ritualized script set down in the dueling codes of the era. Factually, Cat’s actions were no such thing, but by crafting the narrative of an “affair of honor” gone wrong, official lies reflected deeper cultural truths.
Paraguay is a pluriethnic, plurilingual, and multicultural society, influenced by migration from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, which contains many conflicting identities. Despite its heterogeneity, there are certain characteristics which have been seen by Paraguayan and foreign writers as having significant influence on national identity. These are primarily related to three factors: Paraguay’s geographical position as a landlocked country, between two regional superpowers, and the resulting historical isolation; the prevalence of Guarani as the favored language of the vast majority of Paraguayans, and its relationship with Spanish; and the impact of international war and defense of its frontiers, primarily the Triple Alliance War (1864–1870), on Paraguay’s economic, cultural, and political development, as well as on its self-perception.
However, Paraguay is also unusual in that following the catastrophe of the Triple Alliance War, there was a concerted effort by a group of intellectuals to challenge the liberal consensus and reinterpret the past to create a national history. This revisionist approach became increasingly influential until, after the Chaco War (1932–1936) and the end of the liberal period, it became the dominant “official” version. Here it subsequently remained through civil war, dictatorship, and finally transition to democracy. While many observers believed this hegemonic revisionist version would disappear with the end of the Stroessner regime in 1989, it has proved more resilient, flexible, and durable than expected, reflecting a high level of internalization of national identity. This in turn suggests that the official discourse was not purely an invention of tradition but was constructed on deeply held ideas of geographical, cultural, historical, and linguistic difference.
Bridget María Chesterton
In the period 1870–1936, Paraguay began to redevelop economically after its devastating loss in the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870). Turning to a liberal economic model popular in the region at the time, government officials began selling off large tracts of land to foreign investors, in particular Argentine investors. The liberal era in Paraguay was notoriously turbulent as political rivals often relied on Civil War to gain power. Nonetheless, this period was pivotal in helping to shape ideas about the nation. The era ends at the Febrerista Revolution (1936) when returning Chaco War (1932–1935) veterans made their mark on Paraguayan politics and identity.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.
The Spanish word “historietas,” like the English word “comics,” refers to a broad and heterogeneous body of work. A comic strip, a comic series, and a graphic novel are obviously not the same thing. One term can hide genres as diverse as gag cartoons, caricatures, illustrations, figurative narration, and narrative figuration. While comic strips and historietas often share a metonymic perspective, they represent two distinct practices. Comic strips published in newspapers and magazines are part of a hybrid genre similar to cartoons and historietas. Comic strips and cartoons both feature stand-alone stories. Comic strips and historietas both present their plots in a sequential graphic narrative. Historietas differ from comic strips and cartoons by appearing in adventure magazines, graphic novels, and serials that vary in content and publication format, each adhering to its own production conditions and genre rules.
Graphic humor in Argentina has historically been tied to the political and economic elite. Even so, graphic humorists were able to surreptitiously convey subversive messages through their drawings and words. To work in the professional print industry has long been defined as having one foot in media business and the other in public interest. Due to the types of publications featuring historietas, their circulation, and their readership, historieta artists (historietistas) enjoyed a comparatively greater degree of autonomy in communicating social and political criticism. For graphic humor, its comedy or realism is connected to the type of commentary that appears in the opinion page of the daily news. Such is the case with magazines like Tía Vicenta, Humor Registrado, Satiricón, and Hortensia. The central characteristics of political humor link a historieta to the social and cultural conventions of its time. Graphic humor can be read in light of the ways it is unavoidably intertextual and metacommunicational, conditioned by existing discourse.
Starting in the 1960s, realist and adventure historietas cultivated stylistic voics in tune with emerging forms of reflexive irony and the historieta’s unique visual properties. Playful experimentation in the textual and graphic dimensions of the historieta resulted in strongly political tales with elements of novelty and improvisation. Historietas written by Héctor Oesterheld and drawn by Alberto Breccia are paradigmatic of this tension between historietas and politics. Their narrative and aesthetic innovations highlight how historietas can be organized as ideological discourse, intervening alongside popular culture in the debates and dilemmas of the time.
Michael Kenneth Huner
Like many topics in Paraguayan history, the subjects of popular religion and death are under-researched. And yet, if we can conclude anything about them, experiences involving popular religion and death, like many cultural aspects in Paraguay, have intersected with experiences of nationhood. We find many historical and present-day manifestations of this, most conspicuously in language, which inevitably also draws our attention to questions of syncretic religious legacies. Still today most Paraguayans speak Guaraní, a vernacular of indigenous origin. This language itself is a colonial product of the “spiritual conquest,” whose subsequent role in galvanizing popular participation in two postcolonial wars has long been noted. In fact, perusing national monuments and local cemeteries today draws us to a specific time period when many formative links among syncretic experiences of religion, death, and nationhood were being constructed: the fateful López era (1840–1870) that culminated in the cataclysmic War of the Triple Alliance. Here we find how a modern nation-building project attempted to channel, rather than suppress, popular religious energies, and we encounter the many contradictory, and formative, consequences this project produced. A sampling of scholarly literature and primary sources from within a broader framework of Paraguayan history likewise reveals how links among popular religion, death, and state formation are indeed recurring themes for more research that needs to be done.
Timothy Wilson and Mara Favoretto
In the 20th century Argentina experienced a series of dictatorial regimes of varying intensity, but the last dictatorship stands apart. The Process of National Reorganization or Proceso (1976–1983) was not only the most brutally repressive, “disappearing” 30,000 of its own citizens into concentration camps, but also the most ambitious in terms of ideological mission. Its campaign, officially called “the war against subversion,” was committed to the total eradication of leftist ideas from the political landscape of the country by any means necessary. This radical transformation was to be brought about not only in the torture chamber, but in the media as well. The regime planned an Orwellian redefinition of words: the systematic creation of a national vocabulary that would exclude certain ideas and parties. In order to achieve its overt project of the appropriation of language, the junta maintained obsessive control over the media, instituted strict censorship reinforced by terror, and bombarded the airwaves and newspapers with official communiqués. In the face of this repression, most journalists and writers and many artists could not express dissent of any kind. Yet singers of a new Argentine music genre that came to be known as rock nacional developed codified and oblique metaphorical expression in their lyrics that allowed them to evade censorship and to continue to criticize the military regime with relative impunity. Moreover, many Argentine youths found solace in the music and used it to create communities in which they could meet and express themselves. The regime had sought to deny young Argentines a forum for public speech; however, together artists and listeners created a rock nacional culture that provided community for the isolated and lent a voice to the silenced.