Historical Perspectives on Sovereignty in the Americas

AHA Session 222
Conference on Latin American History 46
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Columbia 8 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Karin A. Rosemblatt, University of Maryland, College Park
Seth Garfield, University of Texas at Austin
Rebecca Herman, University of California, Berkeley
Katherine Marino, Ohio State University
Christy Thornton, Harvard University

Session Abstract

The idea of sovereignty in Latin American history can sometimes seem unwieldy, particularly in the modern period. Economic, territorial, state, or individual—sovereignty takes varied forms. Yet its meaning is often imprecise, even to those who invoke it. This lack of precision over the course of twentieth-century Latin American history invites historical reflection. In this roundtable, historians will examine how Latin American states and peoples understood sovereignty. Each presentation opens a space in which sovereignty was employed or imagined by Latin American actors in order to advance a particular agenda. They range from Pan-American feminists striving to internationalize women’s rights, battles over governance on U.S. military bases during World War II, claims of sovereignty over indigenous populations in Brazil, and efforts by Latin American states to enshrine economic sovereignty in international institutions. The papers reveal how Latin American sovereignty can rarely be disconnected from questions of U.S. hegemony and the broader power imbalances between the global North and South. But they also beg the question: is sovereignty merely socially constructed—what the state or actor makes of it? Is there an inherent performativity of sovereignty, or is it a more fixed notion? We will refrain from having a formal commentator so that the audience can participate in discussion.
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