Thinking with Regions in Latin America and the Caribbean

AHA Session 156
Conference on Latin American History 31
Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Room 603 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Barbara Weinstein, New York University
Nancy P. Appelbaum, Binghamton University, State University of New York

Session Abstract

Latin American historians have a long tradition of thinking with regions. The focus on regions as sub-national, geographically discrete spaces has long been part of efforts to understand social, political, and racial dynamics of Latin American nations; their geographically and ethnic fragmentation that long plagued efforts to forge unified and homogenous nation-states. Likewise, historians have often worked implicitly and explicitly with larger geo-political regions such as the Caribbean, Central America or the idea of America writ large. While it was once possible to assume these regional identities were a priori categories, scholars have now made clear that regions were the product of political struggles and contestations over meanings, boundaries, and exclusions. These sub- and supra-national identities have long forced historians to problematize the conceit of nationalist narratives. Indeed, scholars have now moved beyond the notion that regional affiliations and identities were hindrances to national cohesion and the related teleological notion of the nation-state that posited that regional affinities would ultimately fade away with the final triumph of the nation-state. Yet, what these regions meant varied significantly over time and across social actors. Sometimes regional identities were loudly announced by actors seeking a national or even global stage. At other times, they were shrouded in secrecy and have been buried in the archival record.

The papers in this panel collectively consider how a distinct set of sub- and supra-national regions in Latin American –– the Caribbean, Alta Verapaz in Guatemala, and the Northwest of Argentina –– were constructed out of political struggle and imaginaries by different actors. Carloyne Larson considers how anthropologists in the Northeast of Argentina staged a unique identity founded in indigenous heritage through the very public medium of museums that challenged nationalist narratives of racial whiteness. Gibbings illustrates how intellectuals in Guatemala City, German settlers, ladinos (non-Mayas) and Mayas all fought over the meaning of Alta Verapaz’s unique regional development as each sought a political stake in the defining the boundaries of citizenship and the nation. Anne Eller takes a wider stance and considers how diffuse actors constructed in often clandestine ways a political imaginary of the Caribbean forged in anti-colonial struggle. Collectively these papers invite us to consider the multiple ontologies of regions in Latin America and to ask what political projects and regional identities have been lost and or forgotten.

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