Over the semester, you will submit two short chapter reviews (400 to 600 words). One chapter review from chapters 3-7; and one from chapters 8-14.
Your review will clearly articulate the main thesis of the chapter. You will put the author’s argument into your own words. Historical arguments are made up of smaller points and arguments.
Your review will tell readers how the author used various points and sections to support her main claim. Capture the author’s argument and tell your reader how the author built it.
Finally, you will include some sort of criticism. This will range from critiques about style, organization, or tone, to meatier matters: weakness in argument, circular reasoning, or —most often— unanswered questions. When historians attempt to explain why something happened in the past, their argument often leads us to new unanswered questions or problems. Tell your reader what new puzzles or questions the chapter presents us.
Chapter 2: “Latin America in 1790,” by Teresa A. Meade, from A History of Modern Latin America: 1800 to the Present. Reviewed by Michael E. deGruccio
In this chapter, Meade tries to explain why it is that over the 18th century, and especially by 1790, so many Latin Americans, from all classes, joined in a growing number of revolts and rebellions. Meade shows how Latin America society, from the first days of the encounter, was founded upon extreme inequality and privilege. The encomienda system awarded whole indigenous communities to the care (and exploitation) of Spanish colonizers. Spanish and Portuguese colonizers also relied on indigenous hierarchies. Indian chiefs and leaders– called Caciques– served as brokers between the conquerors and the conquered masses. Even more, the crown appointed the sons of privileged families to serve as “corregidores”– a lucrative position which enforced tribute and work from Indian communities. Everywhere, in other words, the Iberian conquerors established a world of slavery, peonage, exploitation, and privilege for the few.
Meade argues that ironically the growing revolts did not happen under this older system of repression; instead, Latin American rebellions sprung up when new, more modernizing monarchs (like the Bourbons) attempted to make their empires more efficient and productive. These new “enlightened” monarchs clamped down on smuggling and unsanctioned trade, made new bureaucratic appointments, and established new elaborate tax systems. Two reformers in particular— José de Gálvez of Spain and Marques de Pombal of Portugal—drastically changed how the two empires governed their distant colonies.
Meade argues that folks from all walks of life resented the creeping bureaucratic intervention from Spain and Portugal. Rebellions across the colonies erupted: Túpac Amaru II and his Andean indigenous followers; Túpac Katari and his insurgents in Bolivia; the Comunero Revolt in present-day Columbia; and a massive revolt by Brazilian miners, led by a dentist. All of the revolts were brutally crushed. Meade argues that women played a large role in these uprisings, even in military leadership. Meade also claims that during this period a new sense of Latin American identity emerged, deeply shaped by the mixing of European, African and Indian blood and culture. One can see this unique identity in the images of dark-skinned virgins, or depictions of Jesus eating new world indigenous delicacies, like guinea pig, or in stories of Mexico’s mythological Quetzalcoatl having possibly been Jesus—all of this suggesting that New World subjects no longer needed Europeans for moral direction.
By the end of the chapter, Meade leaves us with a Latin America, in the final decade of the 1700s, tending toward revolt, and armed with cultural expressions that demonstrate their new identity as independent peoples with their own past and future.
Meade’s chapter, though, leaves us with more questions. Why, for example, were there more revolts in the 1700s when there was so much exploitation from the beginning of the conquest? And in a search for a story about Latin America’s unique history, has Meade downplayed the power of the American Revolution and the European Enlightenment ideas that inspired it? In short, Meade fails to demonstrate why the new reforms were so agitating and offensive to so many Latin Americans.