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A History of Latin America: Empires and Sequels, 1450-1930.

A History of Latin America: Empires and Sequels 1450-1930, by Peter Bakewell. Malden, Massachusetts, Blackwell, 1997. xxiv, 520 pp. $24.95.

This is the first volume of the series of sixteen that will make up the Blackwell's History of the World. The collection is intended as a comprehensive account of the entirety of the human past. However, as the introduction promises the reader, it will be still amenable and readable. This History of Latin America is an outstanding start to the planned collection.

Bakewell is a recognized authority among the Latin Americanist academic community. His thirty years of research offer an account of solid scholarship on colonial economic and social history. Two exceptional books on silver mining in Potosi, now Bolivia (Miners of the Red Mountain: Indian Labor in Potosi, 1545-1650, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984) and in Zacatecas, Mexico (Silver Mining and Society in Colonial Mexico: Zacatecas, 1546-1700, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971) precede his present incursion into the survey history text. It was not surprising that soon after their publication both became required reading for students and specialists of colonial Latin America history.

A History of Latin America is divided into six parts and seventeen chapters. The longest section is devoted to the sixteenth century. Bakewell argues that his work is heavily slanted toward those first hundred years of Latin American history for two main reasons. First and foremost, he regards the sixteenth century as most significant and interesting. The reasoning is that Bakewell believes in the existence of a basic social blueprint for Latin American societies, which, he contends, was alloyed and cast during those years. Second, since Bakewell is more interested in the continuities as long durte reflections, he sees no reason to deal with recent events and closes his study around the 1930s. Thus, he leaves it for other social scientists to undertake the task.

In Part I, "Bases" with three chapters, "Lands and Climates"; "American Peoples," and "Iberia," Bakewell looks at both sides of the Atlantic world. In the first two, he introduces the geography, the climate, and the environmental conditions of the Americas prior to the European invasion. In this setting, he presents the cultural developments of early cultures and the emergence of the Andean and Mesoamerican civilizations. The Inca and the Aztec receive the core of the attention while the Caribbean peoples, the Maya civilization, and the Brazilian cultures attain subordinate notice. In the third and last chapter of this section, Bakewell reviews the momentous events of Iberian history alongside its navigational enterprises since the thirteenth century.

The next section of History has three chapters as well. In these Bakewell reviews the processes of exploration, conquest, and early colonization from the Caribbean to the mainland. The chapters are concise and highly informative. The descriptions of the conquest of Peru and Mexico are carefully balanced.

Part III, divided in four chapters, is dedicated entirely to the settlement, colonization, and construction of the Spanish empire in America. Bakewell gives an all-inclusive analysis of the Spanish institutions that managed to harness such a vast territory and culturally diverse people under one central administration. The author delves into the pivotal role of the Catholic church and its missionaries in the colonization enterprise; the structured and racially mixed society which emerged in the aftermath of the conquest and the population collapse of the indigenous groups; the economic system which relied heavily on mining in Mexico and the Andean regions; it gives an interesting description of the onerous mercantilism of the Spanish crown.

Part IV, "Mature Colonies" is an account, in two chapters, of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Spanish America. It is more apparent at this stage of his book that Bakewell's main concern is the economy. He discusses in detail the array of factors that determined the economic life of the different sectors of the population. However, Bakewell does look into the great diversity of the social and racial landscape of Latin America -- Indians, Mestizos, Creoles, Peninsulares, Blacks and Mulattoes. The concluding chapter deals with the Bourbon reforms and their impact across the region. Particular attention is given to the reactions of the Creole elites to the reforms and specifically how these underpinned insurgency years later. An interesting inclusion at this point is the author's overview of the diversity of rebellions, mainly Indian and Mestizo uprisings, that besieged Spanish America during the second half of the eighteenth century.

Section V is dedicated to Brazil. From the history of the early exploration of the Portuguese navigators, the cultural and environmental settings of Brazil prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the coming of the Jesuits, the initial settlements, the emergence of Brazil based on the slavery-sugar-gold equation are dealt with in comprehensive summary. Bakewell includes comparative issues between the Portuguese and Spanish imperial policies but his approach is less exhaustive than in the section dedicated to Spanish America.

Bakewell includes a great deal of detail as he examines commonalities and singularities of the regional conflicts during the turbulent years of independence in the different Latin American republics.

The nineteenth century or the century of self-searching, as Bakewell calls it, is the subject of Chapter 15. The author describes the emergence and exploits of the caudillos, the petty but bloody civil wars, and the confusion among the bickering political factions of conservatives and liberals. However, European and North American interventionism and imperialism, so adroitly tested in Mexico during the mid-century, are regrettably only mentioned in passing by Bakewell. Twentieth century history is only addressed up until 1930. This section is too brief and general but is still a fair overview of the early events of the current century.

A History of Latin America is an imposing and informative book, skilfully presented and written. However, the solid and remarkable scholarship on which it is grounded is at odds with its usefulness as a survey textbook. Most Latin American history classes at the undergraduate level, are introductory courses. In this respect, Bakewell's book presents two main difficulties. The first objection is its strong stress of the colonial era. Inclusion of more detailed events beyond 1930 would have allowed for a better understanding of Latin American history. At the same time, the reader needs a more balanced and inclusive account of Brazil and the Central American nations. Finally, the heavy emphasis on economic considerations tends to eclipse racial, gender, and cultural factors in the history of Latin American societies.

Maria S. Arbelaez

University of Nebraska at Omaha
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Arbelaez, Maria S.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 1999
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