National Consolidation and the Promotion of "Progress": Chile, Argentina, and Mexico in the Late Nineteenth Century

Conference on Latin American History 13
Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Wrigleyville Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Casey M. Lurtz, University of Chicago Jaclyn Ann Sumner, University of Chicago
Matthew D. Esposito, Drake University

Session Abstract

This panel approaches the late nineteenth century as a moment of national consolidation driven from both the center and the periphery of countries throughout Latin America.  Policies promoting ‘Progress’ and centralization were co-opted, resisted, and integrated in places physically and culturally distant from national capitals. In this discussion, scholars at the beginning and mid-points of their careers will present their current research on three key examples of this moment of consolidation.

By the last decades of the nineteenth century, Latin American countries were pursuing, by all means available to them, a path that would make possible the transition from nations to nation-states. The civil wars that had racked Spanish America since independence were finally winding down and central governments were able to turn their attention to shoring up national borders, promoting internal cohesion amongst their populations, expanding foreign trade, and enhancing global ties. Railroads, factories, and involvement in global commodity markets became the hallmarks of progress, and the strong-arm of authoritarian leaders pursued these aims through intimidation, coercion, and negotiation.

Our panel will focus on the multitude of processes by which Latin American governments brought disparate regions and communities into the national and global spheres. The papers presented in this panel examine particular moments in the history of Argentina, Chile, and Mexico when the national government and local communities worked to strengthen their ties. These three countries are generally seen to have found success in their late nineteenth century attempts at national consolidation and economic progress, and our projects approach these processes from a number of angles.  Jaclyn Sumner will investigate how Governor Próspero Cahuantzi facilitated new industry and infrastructure in the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico, while also heeding the economic needs and political demands of his rural and indigenous constituents. In his presentation, Samuel Martland will discuss how the uniformity and desirability of the telegraph as it spread to predominantly indigenous regions of Chile created a sense of the nation in places separated by culture and distance from the central government.  Casey Lurtz will follow this idea of technological integration by looking to the improvement of communications and transportation to the coffee regions of southern Chiapas, Mexico as a means for the government to increase the Mexican presence in a zone economically dominated by foreigners.  Finally, Carlos Dimas’s paper will examine the manner by which regional health commissions fomented a bilateral exchange of information and policy between Tucumán and Buenos Aires as Argentina suffered through cholera epidemics.  Three of the presenters are actively researching their dissertations, and this panel will provide a valuable opportunity for an exchange of insights into how to best theorize and move forward with their projects.  Commentary will be provided by Matthew Esposito, whose work on monuments and memorial practices during the Porfirian era explores these processes of consolidation from the center.  Casey Lurtz and Jaclyn Sumner will co-chair.