Inter-American Lives and Loyalties: Ties That Bound

AHA Session 204
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Wabash Room (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Jerry Dávila, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The Audience

Session Abstract

Twinning historically grounded intellectual biography with attention to questions of loyalty—personal, partisan, national, regional, ideological, individual—“Inter-American Lives and Loyalties” illuminates the lifetimes and production of towering and not-so-towering figures in the history of the Americas across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries while considering the theme of the 2019 meeting. The Brazilian abolitionist, legislator, and man of letters Joaquim Nabuco, the Mexican revolutionary turned radical-reformist statesman Lázaro Cárdenas, Columbia University’s Frank Tannenbaum—the student of Mexico, interpreter of Latin America, and pioneering criminologist—and Brazil’s Gilberto Freyre, Tannenbaum’s counterpart at Columbia and perhaps the single-most important figure in twentieth-century Brazilian letters, are the figures of the first rank. They are considered alongside and in relation to: José Antonio Saraiva, a preeminent figure of the Brazilian Empire (1822-1889) who died in frustration and relative obscurity, if not disgrace, under its successor regime; Sergio Milliet, a living link between Brazilian aesthetic modernism of the 1920s and the intellectual currents of the postwar, now nearly forgotten outside of specialist circles; and Edison Carneiro, the Afro-Brazilian scholar and activist who served as a key interlocutor between his native Bahia and the outside world in his most productive years, only to be subject to semi-proscription by Brazil’s post-1964 military regime.

Keila Grinberg considers Nabuco’s defense of Saraiva in his study of nineteenth-century politics, Um estadista do império (1899); more than a matter of personal loyalty to a late compatriot, this defense was an element in the construction of a liberal-monarchist narrative on the causes of the Paraguayan War (1864/5-1870), by far nineteenth-century South America’s bloodiest conflict and a key moment in the weakening of the regime the two men served. Marc Hertzman looks at the complex relationships, challenges, and paradoxes that “loyalty” evoked for Carneiro, paying close attention to the last years of his life, when he found inventive ways to remain faithful to his life’s work while subject to state surveillance and official harassment. Barbara Weinstein traces Tannenbaum and Cárdenas’ friendship across opposite ideological trajectories, from anarchism to Cold War liberalism in Tannenbaum’s case and endogenous radicalism to support for the Cuban Revolution in Cárdenas’, on the basis of a close reading of their correspondence. James Woodard uses remarkably similar moments of national reckoning in Freyre and Milliet’s lives as young, would-be intellectuals to begin to unpack questions of national, regional, political, and personal loyalty and belonging in their subsequent trajectories through twentieth-century Brazilian letters and politics.

Ample time for comment from and debate with the audience will permit discussion of the many issues of great interest—especially to historians of Brazil, Mexico, and the United States, but also to historians of the modern world generally—raised in the four presentations. These issues include transnational aspects of nineteenth- and twentieth-century intellectual history and the practice of biography (an “auxiliary science of history” not so long ago) by scholars formed in post-1960s social-history and/or post-1980s cultural-history traditions, as well as questions of identity and belonging so dear to practitioners of the latter.

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