Scale in the Historical Study of Development” in Latin America

AHA Session 235
Conference on Latin American History 57
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Mile High Ballroom 4A (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Anne G. Hanley, Northern Illinois University

Session Abstract

The study of social and economic development has long been a subject of great interest to historians.  What historians mean by “development” when they study it, however, is quite varied. The longest tradition is one of studying development in the sense of processes of economic growth as a result of the industrial revolution. Development, in that sense, is understood as a long term process that over time created a divide between developed (i.e., industrialized) and less developed (or underdeveloped) countries.  Taking that divide as a starting point, a second line of inquiry into “development” has focused on initiatives by less developed countries or regions to catch up, to implement policies that would accelerate economic growth and in particular the process of industrialization. The time frame of those studies has been generally much shorter, tied closely to the politics of development projects, often studied in a framework focused on the nation state. More recently still, historians have studied “development” as an idea (often closely tied to modernization), in particular in the context of the Cold War as well as processes of decolonization. Thus, the study of “development” has acquired a transnational dimension.

For the historical study of “development” in Latin America, in particular, this multitude of approaches and the malleability of the term development have raised questions about the most promising scale in the design of our research. The proposed roundtable brings together historians of Latin America whose empirical work addresses the issue of “development” from various vantage points, offering reflections on the role of scale in the study of development in Latin America and inviting a broader discussion of the methodological issues. The roundtable will address issues of chronological and geographic scale in the study of development in Latin America, as well as perspectives on scale by those historical actors who promoted development. More specific questions include how to bridge local, regional, national, and transnational perspectives on development, what time scale to use to assess the ‘success’ of development, and how to use a comparative perspective to illuminate the history of development. The members of the proposed roundtable work on multiple countries and with different methodologies, often combining qualitative and quantitative approaches to the study of the history of development.

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