Creating Centers on Peripheries: Institution-Building, Authority, and Society in the Upper Río de la Plata

AHA Session 12
Conference on Latin American History 3
Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Columbia Hall 6 (Washington Hilton)
Barbara Ganson, Florida Atlantic University at Boca Raton
Julia Sarreal, Arizona State University

Session Abstract

It was not until the mid-sixteenth century that Spaniards in the Río de la Plata began to establish themselves in permanent ways. A viable commodity--found in yerba mate tea--was not harvested for extra-regional export until the early seventeenth century. By around the turn of the seventeenth century, ecclesiastics stepped up their reduction movements, bringing natives together into larger communities. Nonetheless, the absence of mineral wealth and sedentary native populations made the region a colonial backwater for the next century. By the mid-eighteenth century, with the proliferation of cattle and other exportable goods, the region became a centerpiece for competing Spanish and Portuguese imperial projects and a hotbed for interethnic conflict. With the creation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776, colonials in Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, and Corrientes received a considerable upswing in political and economic power. At the same time, the enlightened policies of Bourbon officials marginalized many creoles, especially the deeply entrenched encomendero class, based in the cities that hugged the Paraguay River. By Independence, the rifts between the multiple centers of power in the region were being defined in  the language of liberalism, employed and internalized by various social sectors.

The papers in this panel will examine topics embedded in the Río de la Plata’s unusual historical trajectory. The panelists will combine revisionism, novel methodologies, and unused sources to provide insights into the political, cultural, economic, and social lives in the region. Shawn Austin and Laura Fahrenkrog’s papers will compliment each other by exploring institution-building in early- to mid-colonial Asunción. Austin’s analysis will demonstrate how the encomienda was shaped by native forms of exogamous kinship and reciprocity and explore the various indicators suggesting that indigenous social and cultural norms had deeply penetrated the European. Fahrenkrog’s exploration of the auditory environment in colonial Asunción will break new investigative ground. The paved streets, open plazas, and towering cathedrals that we would expect to see in a powerful Spanish city and jurisdictional center are substituted in Asunción with a network of canals and bridges, cultivated fields and thatched roofs. Fahrenkrog’s analysis of music and performance in colonial Asunción will challenge what we consider "urban" in Spanish America and provide an ideal site to discuss different models for exploring music and sound on the fringes of empire. Kevin Chambers’ analysis of the effects of Bourbonization in the upper Río de la Plata will provide much-needed insights. The efforts of Bourbon officials in Paraguay effectively eradicated the encomenderos in Asunción long after their cohorts in other Spanish-American regions were gone. This and other policies had important ramifications for Independence. Rachel Lambrecht’s paper will shed light on the decentralized and conflictive nature of Independence movements in the region. The nascent political articulations of the “League of Free Peoples”, based in Corrientes, attracted a diverse revolutionary crowd whose motives and actions require historians’ attention. This panel brings together a diverse group of scholars and promises to promote lively discussion and exchange.

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