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.
That the Mexican mural renaissance is understudied is clear from the fact than not one of its artists has been the subject of a scholarly biography. Moreover, the movement as a whole has usually been viewed through nationalist prejudices and partisan interpretations. A current reevaluation uses the wedge of several hitherto marginalized artists who figure more prominently in documents and chronology than in popular history. Among them, Jean Charlot can be placed securely at the beginning of several major developments, which were continuations of his work in France. At the open air art school of Coyoacán, he helped the young teachers move from impressionism to a geometry-based postimpressionism more appropriate for mural composition. He introduced woodcut, which he had practiced in France and which became the print medium of choice for generations of Mexican artists. His first mural, The Massacre in the Main Temple, was important for its successful use of fresco—immediately adopted as the preferred medium by other muralists—and its dynamic geometric composition, an alternative to Diego Rivera’s static classicism in Creation. Charlot further broadened the thematic and stylistic options of the movement in a series of small oils and in the first studies of the indigenous nude. He continued to nourish his colleagues with the results of his work as an archeological draughtsman at the Chichen Itza expedition of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC.
Charlot also participated in the notable collaboration between artists and writers in 1920s Mexico. Along with Manuel Maples Arce, he was on the two-man Direction Committee of the estridentista movement, illustrating books of poetry and joining group exhibitions. His writings are among the earliest discussions of contemporary Mexican art—publicizing the movement in Europe and the United States—and continue to influence interpretation today. His collections of documents and interviews, as well as his personal experience, became the invaluable basis of books like his The Mexican Mural Renaissance, 1920–1925 and numerous articles in several languages. His latest bibliography is 173 pages long. Charlot fulfilled the unique role of insider-outsider, participant-observer, in the Mexican mural renaissance.
Natasha S. Varner
The India Bonita Pageant of 1921 marked a critical moment in Mexico’s revolutionary identity formation. This serialized pageant hosted by the Mexico City newspaper, El Universal, also played a major role in the formulation of indigenous “authenticity,” as defined by race, material culture, gender, and sexuality. The aims of the pageant were at least superficially focused on celebrating indigenous peoples, but it ultimately narrowed popular understandings of what it meant to be indigenous through its focus on select visual markers of indigeneity. It thereby discursively erased portions of the indigenous population that did not conform to these parameters. The pageant also played into broader efforts to solve the so-called Indian Problem by situating ideal indigeneity in the rural past, favoring Aztec heritage over other indigenous identities, and positioning Mestizos as the race of the future. Ultimately, this attempt at indigenous inclusion was part of broader revolutionary identity projects that sought to isolate and erase one problematic part of the population under the guise of celebrating it.
Fabián Herrera León
At the moment of its founding in 1920, the League of Nations enjoyed the solid support of Latin American countries, whose early and extensive participation helped legitimize the new international system and facilitate the functioning of its institutional representation. While this support was tremendously valuable for the Geneva-based League, it continuously suffered temporary, though significant, lapses on the part of nations that were particularly representative of the region, such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Despite the characteristically pacifist rhetoric enunciated by this group of states, Latin American support cannot be called disinterested or sincere. Indeed, their collaboration with the multilateral and universalistic pretensions of the League was notoriously reserved, to such an extent that in the 1920s the organization’s General Secretariat granted them special treatment and prerogatives, while simultaneously ensuring that the League would continue to exert its influence in the Western Hemisphere. This reality was confirmed, sadly, in the context of two conflicts, the Chaco and Leticia wars, during which Latin American loyalty to the League became seriously questioned. With few exceptions in the decade that followed—one characterized by complicated crises that would lead to a new worldwide conflagration—the general tendency with respect to the system of collective security described in the Society’s Charter was scarred by dissatisfaction, incompliance, and increasing disillusionment that undoubtedly contributed to the weakening and eventual collapse of this organization so emblematic of the interwar period.
Friedrich E. Schuler
The English-speaking world awaits its first detailed study examining Latin America during World War I. Many historical events of the era remain little-known, as does much of the region’s military history during this period. While key chronologies, personalities, groups, and historical avenues remain unidentified, researchers must draw knowledge from existing texts. The authors cited in this article for further study cover only a small fraction of the myriad topics presented by the war.
World War I set in motion a unique power readjustment in Latin America, the likes of which had not been experienced in the region since the 1820s. Most significantly, the temporary suspension of economic ties with Europe disrupted everyday processes that elites and commoners had previously taken for granted. Changes in economy and finance triggered a struggle between indigenous Americans, peasants, workers, elites, and immigrants, setting the stage for the social and political changes of the 1920s. Amidst the upheaval of World War I, non-elite Latin American groups successfully focused national politics on regional and ethnic issues, while elite Latin Americans weighed the potential advantages of ties with Spanish and Italian authoritarianism. World War I ended European financial dominance over the region, and the destruction of Europe reduced export markets to a point where Latin America’s economic relations with the United States gained new significance. U.S. military advisors took their places alongside European trainers, and many different “U.S.” actors emerged on Latin American soil, acting out rivaling understandings of appropriate U.S. activity in Latin America. The war heralded the end of Belgian influence and of significant French power in the region, British acceptance of U.S. financial preeminence, and questions as to how Prussian military expertise could be leveraged to Latin America’s benefit in the future. The creation of the League of Nations, a development alien to Latin American political culture, caught the region off guard. And yet it laid the foundation for global Latin American diplomacy in the 1930s and after World War II. In the end, the search for a new understanding of a Latin American nation’s place on the changing world stage led to the elevation of the institution of the national army as a social and political arbiter. The myth of the army as embodiment of national essence would last until the 1980s.
Machu Picchu is an Inca royal estate constructed in the mid-15th century in Peru’s picturesque high jungle. As a seasonal retreat for celebrations, religious rituals, and administrative affairs when the Incas traveled beyond Cuzco, Machu Picchu was abandoned soon after Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Andes in 1531. The site was largely lost to the Western world until 1911, when a Yale University expedition led by Hiram Bingham lay claim to the scientific and historical “discovery” of the impressive complex of white-granite buildings and agricultural terraces. Contentious debates over cultural patrimony, conservation, indigenous rights, and neoliberal exploitation have enhanced Machu Picchu’s allure as one of the most famous archaeological remains in the Western Hemisphere.
The Mexican Revolution was the first major social revolution of the 20th century. Its causes included, among others, the authoritarian rule of dictator Porfirio Díaz, the seizure of millions of acres of indigenous village lands by wealthy hacendados and foreign investors, and the growing divide between the rich and the poor. As a result of these varied causes and Mexico’s strong social and regional divisions, the revolution against Díaz lacked ideological focus. The revolutionaries ousted Díaz within six months but could not agree on the new social and political order and—after a failed attempt at democracy—ended up fighting among themselves in a bitter civil war. In 1917, the victorious Constitutionalist faction crafted a landmark constitution, the first in the world to enshrine social rights and limit the rights of private, and particularly foreign capital. Although never fully implemented and partially repealed in the 1990s, the document remains the most significant achievement of the revolution. After 1920, a succession of revolutionary generals gradually centralized political power until the election of a civilian presidential candidate in 1946. This effort at state building confronted significant resistance from popular groups, regional warlords, and disaffected leaders who had lost out in the political realignment. In the end, the symbolic significance of the revolution exceeded its political and social outcomes.
While fundamentally agrarian in nature, the revolution thus ultimately produced a new national elite that gradually restored a strong central state. One can easily divide the revolution into a military (1910–1917) and a reconstructive phase (1917–1946). However, the latter phase witnessed an important generational shift that transferred political power from the leaders of the military phase to their subordinates as well as civilian representatives, with the formation of a revolutionary ruling party in 1929 serving as the most important watershed moment in this process. Therefore, this essay distinguishes among three separate phases: insurrection and civil war (1910–1917); reconstruction (1917–1929); and institutionalization (1929–1946).
Ricardo Pérez Montfort
From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, Mexican popular music underwent a significant transformation, thanks to the growth of Mexico City as an urban center and to the influence of both regional and international music genres. At the same time, the Mexican public experienced a profound shift in the way music was consumed. Over the course of five generations, traditional modes of encountering music gave way to a more cosmopolitan enjoyment of new and old musical styles.
Short and stout in physical stature, Brazilian statesman Getúlio Dornelles Vargas (1882–1954) still stands as an outsize figure in modern Latin American history. The politician’s long political career began in the 1910s and spanned terms as state deputy, federal minister, state governor, chief of state four times over, and federal senator. Vargas spent nearly two decades in the presidential palace, the longest of any figure during the republican period. By the time his second democratically elected presidential term (and his life) ended on August 24, 1954, Vargas had been dragged down by personnel scandals, factionalism, and economic destabilization. He likened the political climate of the final months in office to a “sea of mud.” Yet in his sudden death the president was able to free himself from the muck. Among adherents of the Brazilian Labor Party and key sectors of the working poor, “Getúlio” was elevated to the status of civic sainthood. Even after military rule dismantled the Brazilian Labor Party and banished Vargas’s political heirs to exile, the Vargas state managed to endure. Forty years after Getúlio’s death-by-suicide, president-elect Fernando Henrique Cardoso imagined the state interventionism of the Vargas years to be finally over. In reality, Vargas and his era still survive in the enduring Brazilian vocation for statism. Reminders of Vargas and his era are found in the innumerable streets, plazas, and commemorative plaques that bear the name of a politician of enigmatic charms and confounding contradictions.
This complex, resilient legacy draws in part from the bold accomplishments and ambiguous outcomes of the robust cultural policies of Vargas’s successive terms as chief of the provisional government (1930–1934), president (1934–1937), and president-dictator (1937–1945). Federal cultural policies during these fifteen years collectively known as the “First Vargas Regime” were innovative and far-reaching. Reversing decades of elite reverence for imported standards of civilization, official culture after 1930 was unapologetically and self-consciously nationalist. Policymakers, culture critics, entertainment entrepreneurs, and key figures in the arts and letters associated with the first Vargas regime self-presented as advocates for the cultural needs, aptitudes, and aspirations of the Brazilian povo (people). The central state, correspondingly, played a principal role in consolidating a canon of artistic and architectural treasures that endure in global imaginaries of Brazil and Brazilianness.
Paradoxically, the democratizing impulses of cultural management during the first Vargas regime drew their legitimacy from state authoritarianism and anti-popular politics. Most notably during the Estado Novo dictatorship (November 10, 1937–October 29, 1945), cultural policy and programming worked in tandem with censorship and manufactured paranoia. State agents orchestrated acts of violence against ideas, symbols, and creative expressions branded inimical to national interests. “Subversive” books were burned; dissidents confronted silencing. Some authors went into exile and novelist Graciliano Ramos (1892–1953) spent ten miserable months on an island penal colony for unproven charges of participation in a Communist insurrection. The oppositionist newspaper O Estado de São Paulo was outright expropriated by the state. Although the Vargas era included the official elevation of Carnaval, samba, and capoeira as authentically national cultural idioms, Afro-Brazilian popular culture remained under the watchful eyes of local police. Numerous cultural expressions vaunted as organically democratic were, in fact, shaped by regime demagoguery, symbolic violence, and, ironically, internationalism. The bold, sometimes mystifying contours of state- and culture-making in Brazil during Vargas’s first regime are explored here.
The prevention of communicable diseases, the containment of epidemic disorders, and the design of programs and the implementation of public health policies went through important transformations in Mexico, as in other Latin American nations, between the final decades of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. During that period not only did the advances in medical science make possible the identification and containment of numerous contagious diseases; it was also a time when the consolidation of formal medical institutions and their interaction with both national and international actors contributed to shape the definitions and solutions of public health problems. Disease prevention strategies were influenced by medical, scientific, and technical innovations and by the political values and commitments of the period, and Mexico experienced profound and far-reaching political, economic, and social transformations: the apogee, crisis, and downfall of the long Porfirio Díaz regime (1876–1910), the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), and the period of national reconstruction (1920–1940). Thus, during the period under consideration, and alongside the consolidation of an official medical apparatus as an integral part of public power, the promotion of public health became a crucial element to reinforce the political unification and the social and economic strength of the country.
Daniel Alex Richter
Cinema began in Uruguay with the exhibition of foreign films by visiting representatives of the Lumière brothers in 1896 before the first Uruguayan film was produced and shown in 1898. From the early period of Uruguayan cinema to the end of the 20th century, Uruguayan national cinema struggled to exist in the estimation of critical observers. Considering these periods of growth and stagnation, this history of Uruguayan cinema seeks to shed light on the industry’s evolution by focusing on exhibition, production, and spectatorship. This essay explores Uruguay’s national film productions, transnational businesses in shaping local film exhibition, the growth of mass publics and critical spectatorship, and the significance of political filmmaking in understanding the evolution of Latin American cinema during the 1960s. The history of Uruguayan cinema during the 20th century also provides a lens for understanding the political, social, and cultural histories of a country that has struggled to live up to its reputation as South America’s “most democratic” nation.