Cultural History

Andrew Grant Wood

in Latin American Studies

ISBN: 9780199766581
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
Cultural History

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  • Regional and Area Studies
  • History of the Americas


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In the most inclusive sense, culture involves the creation and communication of meaning among individuals in any particular society. More recent thinking on the subject falls into two basic categories: (1) culture as practiced in daily life and (2) culture as taking shape in more institutionalized settings as persons engage in a creative process. No longer wedded to the notion of culture as consisting of only “high” expressions made manifest in traditional art categories such as literature, music, and the visual arts, today the practice of cultural history has expanded into a much wider and deeper appreciation of human interaction and expression. Food, fashion, film, performance, ritual, and sports—just to mention a few newer areas of inquiry—are now included in what is commonly termed “popular culture.” Furthermore, agriculture, cuisine, clothing, craft, festivals, sexuality, sports, and travel, among other undertakings, have either long or more recently been considered grist for the cultural history mill. Redefining Latin American cultural history has, in short, constituted a challenge to past approaches. Yet despite its promise, the so-called new cultural history is by no means a unified or wholly coherent field. Much ink has been spilled debating the relative merits of the discipline. Out of this has come, among other things, charges that cultural history is largely a US academic trend with little to no resonance in “Latin America.” This article’s aim is not to chime in on these controversies or necessarily compile an exhaustive listing of cultural history works both past and present. That undertaking would be impossible. The idea here is to provide a basic overview of the field both in its “high” and more “popular” registers, while leaving more precise assessment of particular methodological, epistemological, and political matters for another time, place, and more appropriate forum. For our purposes here, Latin America will be defined in a relatively traditional manner: principally those areas located across the present-day Spanish Americas, the Caribbean, and Brazil. The importance of pre-Columbian and colonial history notwithstanding, the purview here is largely concentrated on works dealing with the “modern” (i.e. national) period. Consideration of the Franco and Anglophone Caribbean then is, for the most part, excluded. Finally, with a few exceptions, this article does not include works that deal specifically with only one national context and/or any particular subculture within (i.e., Latino or Chicano studies) because to try to include something touching on every single region would prove nearly impossible. All cited sources reveal in some way or another Latin American cultural history as important, vibrant, fascinating, and diverse in its many manifestations past, present, and future.

Article.  4213 words. 

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies ; History of the Americas

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