Across the Río de la Plata: Establishing Connections and Distinctions in 20th-Century Argentina and Uruguay

AHA Session 151
Conference on Latin American History 29
Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Room 401 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Rebekah E. Pite, Lafayette College
Alex Borucki, University of California, Irvine

Session Abstract

What difference does a river and a nation make?  In this panel, we will consider twentieth-century histories of two proximate nations separated by the Río de la Plata: Argentina and Uruguay.  While the small number of historians of Uruguay working in the United States have been more likely to include the much larger neighboring nation of Argentina in their research, the same has not been true for the much larger number studying Argentine history, which has frequently been presumed to be bounded and important enough in its own right.  However, as the papers on this panel seek to demonstrate, there were important political, economic, cultural, and social currents that went in both directions from Argentina to Uruguay and from Uruguay to Argentina during the course of the twentieth century.  At the same time these connections did not mean a lack of distinctions, and the particularities of each national context shaped the experiences of Argentines and Uruguayans in distinct ways.

Thus, this panel directly engages the theme guiding the 2017 conference, “Historical Scale: Linking Levels of Experience” by focusing the southeastern region of South America.  As such, we hope to draw a broad audience interested in transnational history, especially, among fellow Latin Americanists.  Those with an interest in media, political movements, and consumption are other likely participants as our papers will trace the histories of radio, antifascist movements, and the infusion yerba mate across the Río de la Plata. 

Drawing from her extensive research on radio, Christine Ehrick will present a paper that follows the people and sound waves linking this wildly popular medium from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and back again during the 1930s and 1940s.  Her presentation will use such linkages to consider the importance of adopting a transnational approach in this region and of challenging the “great nation paradigm,” which has been predominant in Latin American history.  So too Sandra McGee Deutsch will examine linkages and distinctions in Argentina and Uruguay during this time period, in her case to analyze the collaboration between anti-fascist women in both nations during the World War II era.  She will share how her research led her to the remarkable discovery that contact between politically active women in the Argentine “Junta de la Victoria” and Uruguayan “Acción Femenina” was robust and impactful.  Finally, in her paper, Rebekah Pite will consider a more enduring, quotidian history, that of drinking the infusion yerba mate.  A satiating stimulant, this ubiquitous beverage has both shaped daily life and defined identities of Argentines and Uruguayans in overlapping and distinct region-specific ways. 

Taken together, these papers centered on radio, activism, and consumption seek to help us to better understand people’s experiences and national identities in an understudied, but influential border region.  In his capacity as Chair and Commentator, Uruguayan historian Alex Borucki will bring his expertise on histories of the River Plate during the colonial era and the nineteenth century to our session, helping us to think through the continuities and particularities of this region in the twentieth century.

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