Latin American Independence

Karen Racine

in Latin American Studies

ISBN: 9780199766581
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:
Latin American Independence

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  • History of the Americas


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Latin American independence has spawned tens of thousands of books, articles, novels, plays, films, songs, statues, and public commemorations. Such a prodigious output is a testament to the romance and power of the era, but it is also indicative of the degree to which the meaning of independence remains contested. Was independence merely the substitution of a creole elite for a foreign one, a nonevent that left the essential power structure unchanged? Or was it a sincere attempt to reimagine the relationship between the governors and the governed, to invite previously excluded elements into the national body and create something new? Was it fundamentally liberal or conservative? Was it inspired by revolutionary ideas, or was it the result of internal social and economic tensions? Despite two centuries of serious research, and just as much political polemicizing, the events and personalities of Latin American independence remain the subject of passionate debate, with very little resolution. The earliest histories of independence were created by participants who wrote memoirs as an extension of their statecraft. The subsequent generation of 19th-century historians published massive, multivolume histories to legitimize their own political agendas. In the 20th century, the independence era was reinterpreted according to new political ideologies. Marxist historians characterized the creole elites as a collaborator class who served global capital. Underdevelopment theorists saw it as the era in which the cycle of systemic poverty began. Nationalists lauded great military heroes and stressed the patriotic actions of the armed forces and failures of the civilian politicians. By the 1970s, a new generation of social historians began to study the experiences of women, indigenous people, and slaves. The most significant recent directions in research have been fourfold. First, scholars now see it as a period of transition rather than a distinct break. It has become common to consider independence through the lens of a much longer time frame, typically something like 1750–1850. Second, there has been a shift away from the study of great heroes and military or diplomatic events toward an examination of the lived experience and contributions of real people. Third, the independence movements are now considered part of trends that characterized the broader Atlantic World. Finally, there is renewed emphasis on independence as an internal struggle within the Spanish Empire, pitting liberals against traditionalists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Article.  17899 words. 

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies ; History of the Americas

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