“Exceptional” Figures in Late 19th- and Early 20th-Century Latin America: Suggestive Protagonists and New Directions for Future Scholarship

AHA Session 70
Conference on Latin American History 12
Friday, January 8, 2016: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Room A602 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level)
E. Gabrielle Kuenzli, University of South Carolina Columbia
Florencia E. Mallon, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Session Abstract

“Exceptional” figures in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Latin America:  Suggestive Protagonists and New Directions for Future Scholarship

Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century- Latin American historiography is characterized by familiar divisions such as civilization vs barbarism, which served to justify state-led “improvement” projects for the majority populations of color. Latin American scholarship is also broken into geographical divisions that equate certain areas with Afro-Latin American populations (Brazil, for example), others with indigenous populations (Bolivia, for example), and yet others as white, such as Costa Rica. Scholars tend to take certain regions as representative of a country and its history, such as highland Bolivia rather than lowland Bolivia, and the costal region of Brazil rather than the interior. Yet “exceptional” historical figures appear who challenge our understanding of a history, a nation, or a region, disrupting national discourses and historiographical patterns, demanding scholarly attention.

How should these figures be understood in terms of their historical context as well as how scholars have written the history of a country? Are these figures “exceptional,” and/or are they suggestive of new directions for future scholarship in Latin American history, opening the possibility for a reconsideration of regions and placing Afro-Latin American and indigenous histories in dialog?

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