William E. French
A persuasive literature has argued that the course of Latin American history from the arrival of Europeans to the present has been shaped to a large extent by a small but expanding group of literate bureaucrats, church officials, lawyers, and intellectuals, known as letrados, who made their lives in urban centers. Those marked by this combination of power, urban living, and the written word, an assemblage that Angel Rama has dubbed “the lettered city,” utilized literature, history, the law, politics, and higher education to imagine the country into existence textually and to justify the hierarchies and inequalities that characterized their rule. Yet in Mexico, as elsewhere in Latin America, writing has a long history in nonelite settings, a venue that, in recognition of this fact, has now been referred to as “the lettered countryside.” Moreover, as understandings of a single literacy are giving way to a concern with “literacies,” defined in the plural and operating in relationship rather than opposed to such things as orality and visuality, traces of literacy practices are being discovered in many locations. Foregrounding the conjunction of the lettered city and the lettered countryside is an attempt to bring these venues into conversation while doing away with the binary that associates literary with the city and orality with the rural.
Over the course of the 19th century in Mexico, although the written word was still pressed into the service of national imagining, a number of other characteristics shaped the conjunction of the lettered city and the lettered countryside. A struggle over secularization was one new development, as authority came increasingly to be invested in the written word itself rather than justified in religious terms. New forms of literacies emerged, especially those associated with the novel and other forms of publications, including newspapers, periodicals for and by women, and the penny press, creating new publics with distinct senses of themselves as communities of readers and listeners; oratory, public discussion of politics and other issues in various venues, and the phenomenon of indirect readers also brought together these two locations. As early as the 1840s, rural residents in some parts of the country had made writing their own, drafting political proclamations in which they defined such things as federalism in their own terms and asserted themselves in national politics. While elite diarists, both men and women, left traces of their emotional lives in various forms of life writing over the course of the entire period, ordinary people, including mine workers, agricultural laborers, and women who carried out household duties, wrote love letters to each other by the last third of the century, if not before. Composed and exchanged by means of cooperation, the use of intermediaries known as evangelistas, or by individuals with various degrees of facility in reading and writing, love letters served as privileged means of communicating the emotions they brought into being while often ending up as evidence in legal proceedings that continued to assert the prerogatives of the lettered city even as it came ever more intimately conjoined with the lettered countryside.
The cultural policies of the left-wing government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in the new millennium saw a shift back to funding and patronage of the arts after years of defunding and commodification of cultural production. However, despite leading to a renaissance of cultural activity, Chavista cultural policy also retained a modernist rationality that treated cultural production as objects to be classified and quantified. Official cultural policy in Venezuela has historically developed alongside popular-cultural formations that draw on alternative conceptions of culture that stem from everyday life. The official and the everyday have developed in tandem and, sometimes, at cross-purposes. Many scholars look to policies and states as the producers of change, but it is at the level of the everyday that we can see the emerging possibilities that define cultural movements in search of social change.
Barbara E. Mundy and Dana Leibsohn
Across the last 25 years, digital projects on the visual culture of Latin America have begun to shape, ever more fundamentally, both research and teaching environments. To be sure, books and journal essays remain the dominant mode of publishing (and significantly so), but digital projects—made possible in part because of increasingly accessible databases and less expensive editing platforms—are becoming widely recognized as key elements in the visual and intellectual landscape. The visual culture of Spanish America (also known as colonial visual culture or viceregal visual culture) extends across three centuries, dating from roughly 1520 to 1820. Yet its history, which embraces both the physical traces of everyday life and ephemeral experiences, is arguably the least familiar of Latin America’s artistic and material legacies, especially outside Latin American Studies. Nonetheless, the period has inspired a suite of projects that, considered together, highlight the current potentials (and limits) of digital work, provide useful models for future research, and open onto debates relevant across the digital humanities (as they are currently called).
If this is the basic landscape, then what are the important issues when it comes to the intersections of digital technologies and colonial visual culture? This question is considered here along three avenues. First, what can be achieved with existing software, particularly imaging software, and the inherent epistemological assumptions imbedded in software commonly used? This topic receives the most attention because future research depends so heavily upon our perceptions and understandings of present technological capabilities. The second theme considered is accessibility. Given that institution-driven projects, most often online ventures sponsored by a museum or a library, have opened certain collections to an online public, what are the implications of the accessibility they offer, and how might such databases shape the parameters of research—both in the data they provide and in the kinds of questions their technologies make it possible to pose and answer? Finally, consideration is given to the possibilities and potentials for collaboration that the online environment offers in the study of visual culture of Latin America.
To set a framework for discussion, this article begins with a broad view, “The Object(s) of Visual Culture,” and then turns to examples of scholar-driven projects currently online. Typically, these are generated by scholars working at universities and dependent upon both internal and external funding. The sections “Seeing Images, Knowing Landscapes” and “Epistemological Assumptions” not only describe examples, but also explore the modes of interpretation that digital environments enable and the habits of viewing that are produced as a result. Because scholar-driven projects do not exist in isolation, the article turns to institution-driven projects, represented primarily by digitized museum collections and archives, which have become central components of the research environment. Many projects in this vein are well-described elsewhere—our focus therefore rests on the effects on the larger research landscape, in a section called “Accessibility, Canonicity, Finance.” Lastly, issues related to collaboration are dealt with, in order to both address ideas that are being explored through digital work in other fields, but which have not yet surfaced with much force in the field of colonial visual culture, and to ask why.
Katherine D. McCann and Tracy North
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 Handbook of Latin American Studies is a selective annotated bibliography of works about Latin America. Continuously published since 1936, the Handbook has been compiled and edited by the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress for seventy-five years. Published works in multiple languages are selected for inclusion in the Handbook by a cadre of contributing editors, actively working scholars who provide a service to the field by annotating works of lasting scholarly value and writing bibliographical essays noting major trends, changes, and gaps in existing research. In 1995, the Hispanic Division launched the website HLAS Online, providing access to a database of more than 340,000 annotated citations. The ability to search across more than 50 volumes of the Handbook with a single query gave researchers unprecedented access to years of scholarship on Latin America. In 2000, HLAS Web, a new search interface with more robust functionality, was launched. The two sites link researchers worldwide to a vast body of selected resources on Latin America. The Handbook itself has become a record of the history of the field of Latin American studies and an indicator of changing trends in the field. With digital access to Handbook citations of books, articles, and more, scholars are able not only to identify specific works of interest, but also to follow the rise of new areas of study, such as women’s studies, cultural history, environmental history, and Atlantic studies, among others.
Chiara Sáez and Jorge Iturriaga
With the surge of social struggles tied to the implementation of capitalist modernization at the end of the 19th century, diverse forms of technology-based mass communication in Chile arose to represent the emergence of social sectors that didn’t participate in the dominant culture and sought to disseminate an alternative. Working-class and feminist newspapers, neighborhood theaters, and Cordel literature broke away from the traditional elitist and pedagogical nature that had defined the media until that time. Since then, with cycles that have ebbed and flowed, numerous communicative experiences were related to mass culture in controversial ways: they opposed it, converged with it, et cetera. Even though it is possible to trace the continuity between the cases described, this continuity is not clear upon first glance, due to its underground and nascent character. In general terms, these experiences were not established as an autonomous space for technical or aesthetic experiments; when there was a strategy, it tended to be political in nature, whereas communicative material remained conditional. Finally, the study of these cases implies a paradox: the 20th century began with a vast number of alternative communication projects that became institutionalized over the years, but they re-emerged more autonomously during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship and the era that followed. This process of institutionalization alludes to an inversely proportional relationship between the process of incorporating the masses into positions of power (in the period between 1925 and 1973) and the development of alternative communication: these experiences are plentiful in the less institutionalized contexts of the enlightened working-class culture (that is, preceding the founding of the Communist Party in 1922 and after the anti-working-class culture that has accompanied the neoliberalism imposed since the dictatorship).
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.
In Brazil between 1920 and 1945, the potential for professional advancement increased significantly among literate individuals in three main areas: the intellectual and academic field in São Paulo and the emergence of a university-based intelligentsia; the boom in the publishing industry and the rise of professional novelists; and the Vargas regime’s widespread and deliberate co-optation of intellectuals. The interpretation presented in this article links class dynamics to changes within the activities of intellectuals, some of whom are analyzed here in the context of political and institutional tensions produced by the collapse of the oligarchic Old Republic (1889–1930).
Mariano Ben Plotkin
The life of Italian-Argentine scientist and intellectual José Ingenieros (1877–1925) has been considered a clear example of the potential for upward social mobility based on talent that existed in Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century. Born Giuseppe Ingegnieros in Palermo, Sicily, from a working-class family, Ingenieros was able to become both one of the most internationally renowned Latin American intellectuals and scientists—his scientific and philosophical works were translated into several languages—and also a socialite of high visibility befriending some of the most prominent members of the Argentine social elite. His trajectory seems to be an example of unparalleled success. Nevertheless, a close look at recently unearthed sources, particularly his private correspondence, not only shows a different picture of Ingenieros’s life and works, but also forces us to reconsider accepted knowledge about the possibilities offered to immigrants by turn-of-the-century Argentine society. His trajectory constitutes an excellent case study for the analysis of both the potentials and the limits of social mobility in Argentina at the time, as well as the relationship between intellectuals and power during the transition from the oligarchic republic established in 1862, after the unification of the country, to the really democratic republic based on universal (male) suffrage introduced in 1912. An analysis of the context of production of his most popular work, El hombre mediocre, provides an opportunity to contrast his public image with the social insecurities he expressed to his relatives and friends.
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.
The Spanish language arrived in Latin America as a tool of Iberian colonization. Indigenous languages struggled to survive under the implacable presence of an imperial tongue serving not only to make all subjects part of the Spanish Empire but also, and primarily, as a mechanism to evangelize a population considered by the conquistadors, soldiers, missionaries, and entrepreneurs as barbaric. During the age of independence (1810–1910), defined by bloody armed movements, the emerging republics in Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean Basin declared their autonomy by seceding politically, economically, and legally from Spain while pushing for a vigorous nationalist agenda that shaped them as nations. Spanish was an agglutinating force toward a new collective identity, regionally and locally. Important figures like Venezuelan philologist, lexicographer, and diplomat Andrés Bello established an agenda that helped define the cultural parameters of the young republics in terms of grammar, syntax, and morphology. Followers include Rufino José Cuervo.
Various aesthetic movements, such as modernismo, led by figures like Rubén Darío and José Martí, helped consolidate a transnational sense of linguistic unity. During the 20th century, the nationalist fever spread throughout Latin America, encouraging educators to establish pedagogical patterns that emphasized the uniqueness of the language within the country’s context. The effort was supported by ethnographers, anthropologists, and sociolinguists like the Cuban Fernando Ortiz and Venezuelan Ángel Rosenblat intent on finding what was local in the language. Simultaneously, each nation developed its own idiosyncratic media, which, again, allowed for verbal peculiarities to be included while also driving toward a standardized form. In this atmosphere, the Spanish language has been used as an organ of control by the state. It is also an invaluable tool through which to understand regional, national, and cultural differences.
By the end of the millennium, a new phenomenon emerged, not in Latin America per se yet intimately linked to it: Spanglish. It is a hybrid tongue used by millions of immigrants in the United States, whose power is increasing as time goes by. Spanglish has the potential of reconfiguring the way the Spanish language is understood in the future.