This article focuses on the historiography of abolition and antislavery. Abolitionism is an idea, articulated through language that emerged in the eighteenth century and propelled people to act. It ultimately changed the world. People came to believe that God had endowed all humans with the inalienable right to be free and that slavery was an intolerable evil that must be abolished. Most scholars agree with this basic definition of abolitionism. But they have long disagreed about its significance and the process by which the idea led to action and political change. The discussion covers the age of gradual abolitionism (1770s–1820s), gradual abolition in the British Caribbean and French Caribbean, the age of immediate abolitionism (1820s–1860s), the French abolition movement, and the road to civil war and emancipation in the United States.
Cameron B. Wesson
This chapter examines the nature of Native American societies immediately prior to the advent of sustained contacts with Europeans in the late fifteenth century. Touching on the broad issues of social organization, politics, trade, religion, and identity, the chapter provides a general framework for understanding the uniqueness of indigenous Native American cultures. The precontact Native cultures of North America were far more diverse and complex than any of the theories archaeologists have previously devised to understand them. In addition to the knowledge gained from ever new archaeological investigations of precontact sites in North America, there is ample evidence that an emphasis on scholarly engagement with descendant communities holds the potential to reveal even more about pre- and postcontact Native American experiences.
Edward J. Davies, II
This article discusses the history of the Americas from 1450 to 2000. It describes the Americas before European contact; disease and death brought by the European arrival in 1492 due to new bacteria and viruses they carried; conquest, colonization, and settlement by the Europeans; the building of transatlantic economies; revolutions in the Americas from 1760 to 1830; revolutions and new republics that were formed; the rise of industrial economies in the Americas; migration and labor demands; the Great Depression and World War II; the global cold war from 1941 to 2000teh global economy; and globalization in the late twentieth century.
William R. Fowler
This chapter provides an interpretive synthesis of the current state of knowledge of the pre-Columbian civilizations of Central America from the time of earliest human habitation until European contact. In terms of cultural affinities, the northern portion of the area formed the southeastern periphery of the culture area of Mesoamerica, and the southern regions pertained to the Isthmo-Colombian area (or Intermediate Area). With its relatively high population density, the area is highly susceptible to volcanic, seismic, and climatic natural disasters such as droughts, tropical storms, flooding, and landslides, and the same was true in the past. A recurrent theme in the study of ancient Central American civilizations is the impact of natural disasters and societal responses to cataclysmic events.
Belize’s history and politics reflect the country’s anomalous position between the Anglophone Caribbean and Hispanic Central America. Older historical narratives emphasized its exceptionalism as the region’s sole British colony, associating national identity with its creole (English-speaking) residents. Official discourses belied the country’s actual ethnic complexity, and patterns of wealth and land distribution that mirrored the inequities of the neighboring countries. Recent historiography has emphasized its arduous path to independence, which was complicated by colonial intransigence to self-governance and a long-standing Guatemalan territorial claim. Belize’s contemporary challenges stem from its political affinities with the Commonwealth and geographic location in Central America. Like most of the Caribbean, its agricultural economy has been wracked by market liberalization, caused by the loss of EU trade preferences. Migration from other Central American countries and between Belize and the United States has reshaped the country’s demography, heightening inequities rooted in the colonial era.
Robert W. Slenes
This article reviews scholarship on the history and historiography of slavery in Brazil. Brazil possessed a more varied slave economy with a much larger sector producing for the internal market than scholars had previously thought. The already large slave population of Minas Gerais increased dramatically from 168,543 in 1819 to 381,893 in 1872. Minas Gerais consisted of an intricate mercantile system based on slave labour that not only supplied foreign markets with hides, tobacco, and the products of a revived mining and incipient coffee sector, but also satisfied the domestic demand of Minas and of the rapidly growing Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo plantation complex for cheese, hogs, cattle, and homespun cotton cloth. An elite group of merchants in the ports — often descendants of representatives of Portuguese mercantile houses who had married into large landowning and slaveholding families — came to dominate Brazil's trade with Africa as well as its coastal commerce.
The catechism has a centuries-long history and has been used for numerous, initially religious, purposes. Forcefully present throughout is its tendency to simplify and condense complex beliefs into a frank and accessible prose. Catechisms began to include polemical elements early on, as they not only taught dogma but defended orthodoxy. Changing religious sensitivities led to competition among catechisms, with French catechisms being translated and becoming influential in New Spain. By the nineteenth century, politics itself was transforming in the Spanish monarchy, and catechisms were called on to include civic precepts. Before long, the catechism would be a tool for disseminating scientific, technical, and political information in a simplified way in an independent Mexico. Once again, catechisms reflected political preferences. But they were also a central factor in the expansion of citizenship and popular participation in politics. Youth and women, as well as men, would all be taught precepts in a catechistical fashion. Many times, varied texts of this sort were titled catechisms. In other cases, where titles of such works did not reflect the origin of the format, their content often did.
Central America has endured more US interventions than any other region in the world. This history reflects the long-standing belief of US officials that their country’s global aspirations hinged on its control of an interoceanic canal cutting across the isthmus. Yet geography alone does not explain the fixation with Central America. Ever since Manifest Destiny expansion of the mid-nineteenth century, the region has also served as a proving ground for new forms of US power such as overseas settler colonialism, dollar diplomacy, and counterinsurgency strategies. Central America’s lengthy encounter with the United States has generally been viewed by scholars in dichotomous terms: Central Americans either abetted US impositions or bravely rejected them. These Manichean images of accommodation and resistance have also served as political weapons for Central Americans and foreigners alike. In reality, such images obscure the ambiguities that not only define the region’s history with the northern “colossus” but also best capture the limits of US power.
Christine J. Wade
Central America’s transitions to democracy and the end of civil wars in the 1990s brought the promise of peace, yet the region’s new democracies have struggled with epidemic levels of violence since the early 2000s. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are among the deadliest countries in the world. Even peaceful Costa Rica was plagued by drug trafficking and organized crime. While the political violence of the 1980s has largely been replaced by criminal violence, political violence remains a problem in some countries. Nicaragua, which escaped the homicide epidemics of its neighbors, experienced a wave of political violence in 2018 and 2019. I explore the causes of violence and insecurity in the region, attempts by regional governments to combat crime, and the impact of crime on citizens’ attitudes toward democracy.
The Central American isthmus was under Spanish colonial rule for approximately three centuries (ca. 1502–1821). Known interchangeably as the kingdom, audiencia, or captaincy-general of Guatemala, the region occupied territory that would later become the republics of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, plus the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Unlike New Spain and Peru, Central America did not possess great mineral wealth, but its location between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans made it an important strategic asset. As did other parts of Spain’s overseas empire, Central America presented challenges of governance and defense. During the Habsburg era (to 1700), the colonial state took shape organically, drawing upon existing peninsular models within a framework of collaboration between the monarchy and local allies, including colonial and indigenous elites and the Roman Catholic Church. This system was not elegant, but it worked as long as authorities in Spain were willing to accept a degree of corruption and inefficiency in public administration. Under the Bourbons (1700–1821), Spain’s new rulers undertook an ambitious program of reforms meant to correct the weaknesses of the old system, while promoting economic growth, strengthening defenses, and enhancing revenues. Judged by their own standards, the Bourbon Reforms registered some successes, but they also bred disaffection. The eventual cost became apparent when the traditional allegiances forged in the Habsburg era dissolved under the pressure of constant warfare, and especially the 1808 Napoleonic invasion of Spain, which precipitated the empire-wide independence crisis.
Joaquín M. Chávez
Global and regional political and cultural trends shaped a set of interrelated and persistent conflicts between authoritarian regimes and democratic and revolutionary forces during the Cold War in Central America. US Cold War anticommunism, in particular, abetted authoritarian governments that sparked major conflicts in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. The failure of the post-World War II wave of democratization in Central America led to persistent revolutionary and counterrevolutionary politics in the next three decades. Two successive waves of revolution emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. The reverberations of the Cuban Revolution and US counterinsurgency mainly shaped the first wave of revolution and counterrevolution in the 1960s. The Cuban Revolution, progressive Catholicism, and the Sandinista Revolution mainly shaped the second wave of revolution and counterrevolution in the 1970s and 1980s. The armed conflict in Guatemala (1960–1996), El Salvador’s Civil War (1980–1992), and the Contra War in Nicaragua (1979–1991) became the last major Cold War conflicts in Latin America. The changing dynamics of the conflicts on the ground and the international consensus in favor of peace negotiations in Central America that emerged at the end of the Cold War enabled the political settlement of the conflicts. The peace processes that put an end to the armed conflicts created fragile democracies in the midst of the neoliberal restructuring of the 1990s, which limited the meaning of social citizenship in Central America.
Between the early sixteenth and late eighteenth centuries Spanish colonial life was undergirded by a general theory, not always realized in practice, that social and political order would come from imposed categories of identity and community. Spanish colonizers’ ideas about community formation in Mexico were expressed in the two-republic system, ideas about purity of blood, and the caste system. These imperial ideas were put into practice in many ways: through formally created Catholic communities such as female convents and confraternities and through informal communities such as those formed by African-descent people, crypto-Jews, and previously enslaved people known as maroons. Ideas about race, gender, and class, as well as factors such as occupation, neighborhood, membership in religious groups, and family ties all shaped these formal and informal communal groupings which at times supported viceregal objectives of maintaining order and at other times weakened viceregal rule.
Nicholas A. Robins
This article explores the genocides of conquest and colonization in Latin America, highlighting the shortcomings of conventional definitions of genocide. According to some interpretations of the 1948 UN Convention on genocide, it is possible to have a ‘genocide’ free of death. Actions causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group are legally considered genocide, yet can be interpreted as not necessarily involving mass killing even when the object is the destruction of a group. Likewise, although in a broader intellectual context, deliberate cultural destruction, or ethnocide, and the deliberate elimination of languages, or linguicide, are also often considered genocide. On the other hand, the unintended extinction or near extinction of a people from disease, a literal genocide and what could also be termed ‘collateral genocide’, is not considered genocide according to the UN Convention.
Lyman L. Johnson and Susan M. Socolow
This article covers Spanish South America, particularly the Andean core of the empire but also a surprisingly rich historical literature on the River Plate, long a marginal corner of the Spanish Empire. The relative lack of surviving documents written in Quechua or other South American indigenous languages has prevented the development of a philological historiography analogous to that of New Spain. But increasingly informed by the work of archeologists, anthropologists, and ethnographers, historians of colonial South America have also revealed the remarkable endurance of native social, cultural, and even political practices during three centuries of Spanish colonial rule.
Latin America’s communist parties were shaped by the Soviet Union’s political priorities up to 1945. This sparked debate with those that emphasized the specificity of Latin American conditions, notably the Peruvian Marxist Mariátegui. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 launched a new continental strategy, based on the guerrilla warfare strategies advocated by Che Guevara. By the late 1960s, these had failed. The election of Salvador Allende to the Chilean presidency in 1970 briefly suggested an electoral strategy to socialism, until it was crushed in the military coup of 1973. Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution opened new hopes for a Central American revolution, but this movement was destroyed with the active support of the U.S.. In 1994 the Zapatista rebellion in Mexico signalled a new phase of resistance against neo-liberalism and a rising tide of new social movements carried Left governments to power in what President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela dubbed the era of ‘twenty-first-century socialism’.
In this article, the main debates on consumption in Latin America, a topic that has yet to receive full scholarly attention, are analyzed. Current discussions tend to limit its focus to the possession of goods and public services. Historiographical quarrels comprise different perspectives and approaches that include commodity histories and the study of imports, local development, the arrival of modernity, globalization, consumer culture, and the relationship between consumption and political activism.
From 1840 to the present, Costa Rica has sharedsimilar historical processes with its Central American neighbors, but differed from them by consolidating a stable democracy. The Costa Rican dominant groups never had the resources or sufficient means to subjugate the middle classes or the popular sectors, whose demands for policies that satisfied their interests shaped very early a culture and a state prone to social reform. In the long term, this modernizing trend played in favor of the social and cultural inclusion of the population, the reduction of inequalities, and the legitimacy of the political system.
Matt D. Childs and Manuel Barcia
This article reviews scholarship on the history and historiography of slavery in Cuba. In the sixteenth-century, Africans crossed the Atlantic and accompanied Diego Velésquez and other Spanish conquistadors in the first expeditions sent to subjugate Cuba. Africans served in post-conquest Cuba as enslaved assistants to powerful military and political officials or as domestic servants. During the nineteenth-century heyday of plantation slavery, Cuban social and political life centred on the master-slave relation. Foreign capital and foreign political pressure — British abolitionism and United States annexationism, for example — began to shape Cuban slavery beyond the contours of Spanish colonialism alone. The transatlantic slave trade lasted longer to Cuba than to any other New World slave society with final abolition coming only in 1867.
The 1968 Tlatelolco Student Massacre and the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake—two catastrophic, “watershed” events—are generally thought to have defined recent Mexican history in leading to great change, especially sociopolitical democratization. In the historiography of modern Mexico, 1968 and 1985 have become gigantic milestones in fomenting demands for social–political transformation. As recent scholarship has demonstrated, however, this interpretation neglects formative precursors of the struggles prior to 1968 and significant developments after 1985. Strikes and protests by railroad workers, doctors, and teachers in the cities as well as the resistance forces in the campo pointed to the underbelly of the Miracle long before 1968. And, after the sismo, it would take another long and contentious fifteen years to bring the PRI’s seventy-year rule to an end.Drawing on this scholarship, “disaster” is used as a guiding framework to chronicle the major sociopolitical changes in Mexican society without privileging a linear-progressive, teleological model. Instead, it offers an analysis centered on trauma and popular memory to gauge the transformative power of these disasters. The trauma produced by disaster—whether man-made or natural—can give rise to palpable contestations and negotiations in which people draw on memory to challenge official histories. Hence, 1968 and 1985 (and their consolidation into powerful discourses) can be understood as rallying points, rather than stand-alone dates in history. Framed by the narrative arc of disaster, the period spanning the end of the student movement and the start of urban grass-roots organizing proves crucial in contemporary Mexico because of the power of memory.
Barbara A. Tenenbaum
When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, it inherited a declining silver economy, and an ever-expanding northern neighbor that already had begun its industrial revolution with an abundance of immigrants eager to seize the future. Mexico struggled to stay independent. When Spanish troops invaded in 1829 and in 1838 when French sailors seized the wealthy port of Veracruz, General Antonio López de Santa Anna defeated them and became a national hero even though he lost part of his leg battling the French. He could not defeat, however, the better-equipped volunteers from the north. By the conclusion of the Mexican-American War (1846–1848) and a subsequent land sale, Mexico had lost 55 percent of the territory it had possessed in the 1820s. Internally, Mexico limped along with an underfunded treasury and enormous debts. Although Santa Anna was the most successful of all Mexico’s generals, he was not the only one eager for power and glory. Generals and politicians wanted Mexico to protect the Church and the army as the colony had, or construct a more secular government with Church funds and a variety of state militias. Of course, women benefitted little from any of this. Until railroads were built in the 1880s, Mexico continued as a democratic republic funded by moneylenders risking their fortunes to support the government and perhaps make huge profits for themselves.