The Meanings of Correspondence in Modern Latin American History

AHA Session 203
Conference on Latin American History 52
Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Chicago Ballroom A (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Lyman L. Johnson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Stephanie J. Smith, Ohio State University

Session Abstract

The study of correspondence as a particular genre heretofore has focused on the colonial period where long missives, along with other kinds of petitions, from indigenous populations and Mestizos to the Kings of Spain have been analyzed with great care. In modern Latin America, however, the historical analysis of a significant body of nineteenth century correspondence, mostly from elites, as well as petitions from poorer people presented in the voice of the scribes who submitted them, has obscured the presence of personal, less official letters. This also has been true in twentieth-century Latin America where oral history has helped produce the testimonio at the same time that letters to presidents as well as people with little power often have escaped the scrutiny of historians.

This panel is dedicated to the study and analysis of correspondence in Latin America since the nineteenth century, with particular attention to issues of gender, ethnicity and class. Despite the diverse rates of literacy over time within Latin American modern nations, there always has been a tradition of letter writing. Among the genres to be studied are petitions to public authorities, private correspondence between and among the literate, and correspondence among political exiles.

These presentations will analyze the power relations between and among letter writers—from poor people asking for aid from presidents, petitioners for justice, and missives between friends that speak of the times, politics and personal feelings. Rather than simply view letters as sources, this panel hopes to encourage new ways to explore the nature and intent of letter writing and add this technique to the growing number of methodologies utilized by modern Latin American historians.

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