Political Culture, the Legality of War, and Spatial Imaginaries: Multifaceted Views of Nation Building in 19th-Century Colombia

AHA Session 48
Conference on Latin American History 10
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Room 603 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Nancy P. Appelbaum, Binghamton University, State University of New York
James Sanders, Utah State University

Session Abstract

Historians of Latin America have adopted a pessimistic analytical framework to explain 19th-century nation building, one that underscores failed states and dictatorial caudillos. Colombia, despite its size and significance for the hemisphere, has been woefully understudied as compared to Mexico and Brazil. Colombian ‘exceptionality’ supposedly impedes an understanding of the region as a whole. Established scholarship that addresses Colombia’s 19th century tends to circumscribe analysis to elite-driven partisan politics and civil wars. More recently, scholars have widened these narrow perspectives by analyzing nation building in terms of the interplay between the political and other social, cultural, territorial, and economic domains. Drawing on this literature, this panel speaks to broader questions regarding the formation of political culture, the definition of legality in times of war, and the changing ways spaces were imagined to act in society.

Each paper addresses a discrete period of the 19th-century, allowing the panel to take on the century as a whole, revealing far-reaching dynamics and points of comparison. It begins in the wake of the Napoleonic invasions, when sovereignty reverted to the ‘pueblos,’ an ambiguous term that could mean both ‘people’ and ‘towns.’ The first paper, by Lina del Castillo, argues that to understand political representation in Spanish America, we have to step away from the significance of participation by individual citizens, and instead focus on how municipal spaces acted politically. The civil wars fought during the early 19th-century were fundamentally about reining in the political voice towns and cities gained through the Napoleonic crisis. The second paper, by Joshua Rosenthal, turns to Colombia’s mid-century civil wars to examine dramatic changes in legal culture as revealed by petitions for –and grants of—clemency. The focus on petitions emanating from both Cali and Bogota allow for a deeper understanding of how these two cities, and the regions they dominated, shaped the political culture related to war and peace leading up to the formation of the United States of Colombia in 1863. A third paper by Miguel Cuadros examines the notion of “nation” as territory by exploring how geography textbooks produced under the Liberal-dominated regime of 1863-1880 compared and contrasted with those of the more Conservative regime of 1880-1899. These texts, he argues, demonstrated common grounds forged by both regimes through their articulation of the kind of nation they wished future generations would imagine. The final paper by Adrian Alzate explores the construction of political crimes and criminals through legal mechanisms both before and during the War of the Thousand Days (1899-1902). His analysis reveals crucial links between the legal treatment of political opponents, the regulation of political dissent, and the construction of a national political community that included strategic limits to political participation.

The panel problematizes assumptions regarding modern Latin American nation building that too often project Black-Legend prejudices into the 19th century. Instead, this panel provides a deeper reading of complex processes as they occurred in Colombia, shedding light on similar dynamics occurring in the region, in the broader hemisphere, and in the Atlantic World.

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