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Time, Institutions, and the Subaltern in Latin American Economic History.

In the third volume of his Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci characterized Latin America as having "a considerable number of Indians who, albeit passively, exercise an influence on the state: It would be useful to have information on the social status of these Indians, on their economic importance, on their role in land ownership and industrial production." Although his further comments betray a lack of first-hand knowledge of the region, his initial focus on the indigenous communities points to the role of the subaltern in the region's economic and political history. Broadly defined, subaltern communities--indigenous, mestizo, afro-descended, slave, or ex-slave--lack access to the political and economic power of the state; they are excluded from established institutions and have no "voice" in a country's cultural and political life. (1)

Inspired by Gramsci, Subaltern Studies emerged during the final decades of the twentieth century, initially, among cultural theorists and historians who specialized in India. Practitioners posed questions on the role of the subaltern in state formation, the relationship between the state and the underclasses, and how the liberal bourgeois elites view the subaltern. In the United States, the short-lived collective, the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group (1992-2000), expanded our awareness of the role of the rural and urban underclasses in the region's history. Despite the collective's short life, the studies that emerged provide a vocabulary and point of view that revise traditional histories of the region and challenge conventional notions of culture and politics. (2)

In parallel, but unrelated studies, institutional economists posed questions about the observed failure of the Latin American countries to close the gap between their economies and those of Europe and the United States. According to these economists, institutions create the economy's legal, judicial, regulatory, cultural, and social environment. They determine an economy's capacity to achieve the necessary growth for prosperity. Because they resist change, institutions have a substantial and long-term impact on economic growth. The institutional perspective takes from history a view to the region's colonial past, but with a focus on land tenure, property rights, education, and economic opportunity. Institutional economists concluded that formal and informal Spanish colonial institutions have persisted through history to determine the trajectory of the Latin American economies. Thus, according to these economists, during the first century after independence, the deep structure of Latin America's benighted colonial heritage bequeathed the region with unchanging institutions and a stable elite that worked against the national governments' attempts at economic development. (3)

Because the institutional economists focus on the role of the elites in political and economic development, their studies appear not to take notice of the role of the subaltern in the economic lives of nations. Indeed, as historian Glen Keucker points out, the subaltern has "disappeared" from the neoliberal paradigm. However, as John Williams notes in his discussion of pluralism in the English school of international relations, openness to the subaltern reveals a "richer institutional world" and highlights the "normative significance" of institutions and their interactions. (4)

This paper proposes a fresh look at subaltern institutions to assess their role in Latin America's economic history and persistent inequality, recognizing the interaction of pre-colonial institutions with the new realities wrought by the Spanish conquest and the rise of Liberalism in the nineteenth century. This historiographical review, therefore, re-imagines the Latin American subaltern communities as providing their own institutions to the region's economic development, for good or for ill, rather than serving as passive or "disappeared" participants. The impacts of these institutions have yet to be assessed. This initial exploration provides the groundwork for further study and a deeper understanding of Latin American economic history.

Pre-Colombian cultures were as complex, varied, and flawed as any other, with a long history of empires, markets, trade relations, technologies, warfare, and class and ethnic divisions. Their institutions provided the indigenous peoples with tools to respond to the new European diseases, animals, plants, technologies, and governance structures. After conquest, this complex world also contributed its own products and processes to the trans-Atlantic markets. Spaniards were quick to adopt and adapt native institutions when it served their interests. (5)

Neither indigenous nor Spanish institutions survived the trauma of contact, conquest, and the colonial regime unchanged. The ongoing balancing and rebalancing between change and persistence more likely influenced Latin American economic history than static Spanish colonial institutions. The history of the indigenous response to the conquest reveals both the continuity and resilience of the indigenous institutions. Moreover, the institutions that some economists identify as colonial may have resulted from changes or adaptations of pre-colonial institutions. Marina Zuloaga Rada, for example, describes the persistence of the guaranga, a little-known Incan institution that served as the intermediary between the rulers and the ruled. The existence of the guaranga well after the conquest also suggests that Spanish rulers were willing to use pre-existing governing institutions to negotiate with the indigenous populations. The strategic role that guaranga caciques retained in the new imperial system of power allowed them to erode it from the inside by redirecting it in a way less damaging to their interests. (6)

Colin MacLachlan provides a long view and a context to the economic history of Mexico. He begins not with the Spanish conquest in the early sixteenth century, but with earlier sources: the Aztec Federation ("Indo-Mexico"), the late Roman Empire, and the Spanish 800-year long Reconquista. The story is not one of cultures destined inevitably for failure, but of complex civilizations whose clash in the sixteenth century resulted in the creation of new mestizo civilizations and institutions with elements of persistence and innovation. (7)

Recent studies of subaltern groups reveal persistent alternative institutions as the native communities engaged with the colonial regimes, emerging republics, or modern-day governments. These revisionist studies describe a strong self-awareness and capacity among subaltern groups to resist or modify changes imposed from "above." They reveal the ability of the indigenous, mestizo, and Afro-descended peoples to assert their points of view, defend their interests, and preserve, in the case of the indigenous communities, pre-Colombian institutions. They are reshaping the image of the subaltern communities from passive members of colonial or modern rule to active participants. As Barry Lyons puts it, the subaltern communities participated in the making of history, as they negotiated "the terms of their subordination." Brooke Larson, citing Jeremy Adelman, adds that "too much emphasis on the deep structures and discourses of colonialism leaves out of the picture the power of people, and especially subaltern groups, to alter the course of nation making." (8)

However, this is not meant to replace one romantic gloss with another; rather, it suggests that the continuity and change in subaltern institutions may also be part of the explanation for Latin America's economic performance. That said, subaltern institutions do more than simply impose the necessary "constraints" on individuals for the purposes of maximizing wealth. They provide the context for identity and community. They establish the "social world" and give meaning to interactions among social actors. They enable the subaltern to interact and negotiate with structures of power and, thereby, affect national policies. (9)

Eric Van Young recovers the voices of the subaltern during the wars of independence. Neither economic grievances nor class relations motivated members of the indigenous communities to participate in the rebellion. Rather, the indigenous participants were more concerned with defending their communities and their identities from the modernizing forces of liberalism. Karen Caplan tells a similar story in her comparative study of "local liberalisms" in the Yucatan and Oaxaca. The indigenous communities were adept at defending their own interests, sometimes in the courts or with the threat of violence; and they sought to balance their traditional colonial protections of self-government with the many legal and institutional changes introduced by the liberal elites. Despite this common institutional legacy, these two regions experienced vastly different outcomes. The difference was a result, in part, of the emerging liberal elites' ability, or inability, to engage with indigenous leaders in ways that ensured the communities' survival and cooperation. (10)

The contentious relationship between the governing elites and the subaltern communities serves as an additional institutional predictor for the pace of post-colonial modernization efforts. During the nineteenth century, the liberal modernization efforts led to tensions between the emerging "civilization" of the urban national present and the "barbarism" of the rural colonial past. As the liberal elites moved to fill the power vacuum left by the retreat of the Spanish Monarchy, the subaltern indigenous, black freedmen, and mestizo communities were left without their traditional legal and institutional protections. Ruggiero Romano imagines that, even as the system of forced labor weakened, it left a "seigniorial spirit," that resulted not in a true (feudal) nobility but in an "aristocracy" of "betters" among elites, in opposition to the efforts of the rising mixed race and indigenous peasantry. (11) This struggle, between elite values of modernity and popular values of tradition, played out not only in the economic and political spheres, but, also in cultural expressions, such as music, dance, and entertainment. (12)

Resistance and Communal Lands

Subaltern communities had at their disposal pre-colonial and colonial institutions to respond to the liberal assault. One constant is the recourse to resistance: passive, violent, or legal. For Williams, resistance meets the criteria for an institution. Resistance to the "dominant discourse" is a "durable and evolved social practice" that conditions self-understanding and regulates behavior. Resistance establishes the terms of negotiation with authorities. Uday Chandra narrowly defines resistance in terms of understanding and enduring the conditions of subordination and acting "with sufficient intention and purpose to negotiate power relations from below." Luis Reygadas summarizes this point by stressing "the resilient capacity for resistance" of indigenous societies "in the face of the long-term trauma of the conquest." (13)

Violence was a useful modality of resistance. The violent events of indigenous resistance or collaboration during the European conquest are well known, but, indigenous communities continued to resist even as the colonial state strengthened its hold. (14) The eighteenth century witnessed an increasing number of uprisings in the Andes. On at least two occasions in 1742 along the eastern slopes of the Andes and in 1780-82 under Tupac Amaru II--violence threatened full scale ethnic war. The stalemates that occurred confirmed the strength of subaltern resistance. The defeat of the Tupac Amaru rebellion in 1782, however, was at a cost of 100,000 lives and a traumatized population of Indians and non-Indians. (15)

Communal landholding, an institution inherited from the pre-colonial and colonial periods, served as an important marker of identity and provided an economic basis for survival of the indigenous economy. Much of subaltern resistance during the nineteenth century was focused on preserving communal landholdings and traditional values, both of which provided the context for minimal levels of social relations and social protection. The efforts of liberal governments to take apart indigenous communal landholdings led to violent resistance with various levels of success. In Bolivia, between 1869 and 1871, despite the violent opposition of the Aymara communities to a botched land-privatization scheme, the country's legislators continued to believe that the Indians would be better served under the protection of a large landholding hacendado. During the 1880s, violent protests forced the conservative Bolivian governments to suspend land tax collections and sales of communal land, and to recognize documented colonial communal landholdings. In the Yucatan, Mexico, as authorities moved to privatize ejido lands, villagers banded together and resisted the surveying and distribution of the properties. (16)

However, not all communities resisted privatization of common lands. In some cases, indigenous communities cooperated or sought to moderate the privatization efforts. In Nicaragua, the members of the indigenous community of Diriomo largely responded to the efforts to privatize their communal lands by active participation in the process. The study of this process by Elizabeth Dore illustrates the diversity of responses to elite domination and highlights the advantages and pitfalls of cooperation. The results of land privatization were mixed. The identity of the community members changed from Indian to ladino. Women acquired greater autonomy, but lost the protections afforded them by their fathers or husbands. Poor families became poorer. Indians lost common lands for cultivation and pasture. Coffee fincas occupied areas where community members traditionally hunted and gathered firewood. Emilio Kouri describes a similar response to privatization. In Papantla, Mexico, indigenous resistance resulted in a partial privatization when the state legislator revived the conduenazgo, a system of co-ownership in which the participants owned stocks or shares in the land. This was not a solution for all the issues in the division of land and only a small minority participated in the program. Nevertheless, the process reveals how indigenous communities could affect or at least slow the process of land division. (17)

Market Participation and Reciprocity

The indigenous peoples' response included participation and negotiation in a reciprocal relationship between elites and subalterns. As indigenous communities entered the transatlantic market economy, they adapted the Spanish colonial institutions, making changes to meet their needs. Robert Haskett describes how ruling native elites in Cuernavaca were able to maintain certain pre-Hispanic traditions within the colonial institutional power structure, and, through the cabildo, generate income by renting out community-owned land. Studies by Robert Patch and Jeremy Baskes reveal how the Indians of Central America and Oaxaca cooperated with the system of forced consumption and production known as the repartimiento de mercancias. Revising earlier studies, Baskes notes that the repartimiento was a way to overcome certain market imperfections and facilitate the extension of credit. He also demonstrates that Indians were actively engaged in the market. Their market behavior was indeed rational and largely voluntary. The repartimiento expanded and deepened markets because it provided the necessary credit and financing. Although Patch stresses the coercive nature of the repartimiento, he recognizes the larger implication of integrating the Indian peasant into the colonial (and world) economy. In any case, other than such passive resistance as foot-dragging or pretending not to understand an order, the repartimiento apparently never inspired a major rebellion. (18)

Indigenous, ladino, and mestizo workers manipulated and set the terms of their participation in the economy. This certainly does not imply that work, the labor requirements or other imperial constraints were not onerous, but indigenous peoples remained engaged and retained their agency. In Peru, studies by Karen Graubart and Alcira Duenas reveal how indigenous and mestizo women and men challenged the colonial racial and social hierarchy, engaged the power structure, and prospered. Indigenous women and men bought and sold urban properties and knew how to use the court system. Women maintained their own credit and owned their own land. A number of little-known indigenous and mestizo scholars engaged the Spanish intellectual and literary world. Their efforts at gaining admission to institutions of education and religious establishments changed colonial society. (19)

Ann Zulawski's study of colonial Bolivia serves as a corrective to the tendency to create an overly romantic image of resistance and reminds us that indigenous men and women indeed suffered under a system of class and ethnicity-based constraints and labor requirements. Jane Mangan's urban history of Potosi describes how the marketplace served as the venue where indigenous and colonial institutions adapted to the ongoing dialogue among the members of society. Indigenous refiners dominated the silver refinery process until the late 1570s, when the mercury-based amalgamation process was introduced. Traders also traded unminted silver and bought and sold subsistence goods in the marketplace. Women participated in the market economy, as producers and purveyors of food and drink. Women also dominated the informal credit and lending mechanisms. Mangan's review of the notorious labor draft known as the mita (a pre-colonial institution) also shows how indigenous workers managed and responded to the demand for labor in the nearby silver mines, by, among other strategies, hiding, moving away, or stealing. In the end, subaltern people created their own economic and social spaces in the informal economy by dodging taxes and regulations. Thus, the history of coercive and extractive institutions includes resistance. (20)

Inequality, Globalization, and Institutions

Given this dialogue between elites and subalterns, the pre-colonial and colonial institutions changed as the various parts of society negotiated the demands of modernization. For example, Barry Lyons's account of an Ecuadorian hacienda revises earlier notions of hacienda life. During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, landlord and peasant established the outlines of their relationship with rituals of reciprocity, gift-giving, and mutual aid. At festivals and religious celebrations, such customs recognized prestige and authority, reduced tensions, and established responsibilities. These practices were part of the settlement, negotiated over time, to address a potentially conflictive relationship. They were imposed by the farm workers as much as by the landowner. (21)

The indigenous institutions of resistance, communal landholding, and market participation played out and were negotiated in a context of persistent inequality. This reality of economic and ethnicity-based structural inequality remains, perhaps, the most stable institution in Latin American economic history. With independence, the indigenous communities embraced the emerging new nations at a time when "few people thought to include them as citizens." This inequality is described in any number of studies chastising Latin America for being the "most unequal" region in the world. However, inequality also operates in an international, or transnational institutional context that connects the subaltern communities to the larger world, as exporters of bullion, as consumers of European goods, as subjects of European government, and as providers of slave or low-cost labor. In this globalizing process of the last half-millennium, the indigenous and other subaltern communities resisted and asserted their own identities; they articulated their needs and demanded recognition as citizens. Their success or failure at achieving their goals was as much a function of historical contingency as institutional persistence; but, it cannot be said that the indigenous subaltern communities remained outside that process--or that they had no impact on the region's economic history. (22) Indeed, the economic impacts of subaltern institutions have yet to be fully assessed.

(1) Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, trans. by Joseph A. Buttigieg (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1996), iii,

(2) Latin American Subaltern Studies Group. "Founding Statement." Boundary 2 20, no. 3 (1993)110-121; Ileana Rodriguez, ed. The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader (Durham: London: Duke University Press, 2001); Gustavo Verdesio, "Introduction: Latin American Subaltern Studies Revisited: Is There Life After the Demise of the Group?" Dispositio 25, no. 52 (2005) 5-42; Partha Chatterjee, "After Subaltern Studies." Economic & Political Weekly 47, no. 35 (2012) 44-49; John Beverley, Michael Aronna, and Jose Oviedo, eds., The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995).

(3) Douglass C. North, Structure and Change in Economic History (New York, NY: WW Norton & Co, 1981); Douglass C. North, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (New York, NY: Crown Business, 2012); John Coatsworth and Gabriel Tortella Casares, "Institutions and Long-Run Economic Performance in Mexico and Spain, 18002000," Paper presented at the XIIIth Congress of the International Economic History Association, Buenos Aires, Argentina: N.p., (2002), TEMPFTP/CATEDRA3TRIM05/Institutions%20and%20longrun.pdf; John Coatsworth, "Political Economy and Economic Organization," in Victor Bulmer-Thomas, John Coatsworth, and Roberto Cortes-Conde, eds. The Cambridge Economic History of Latin America Volume I: The Colonial Era and the Long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 2005), 237-273.

(4) Alice H. Amsden, Alisa DiCaprio, and James A. Robinson, eds., The Role of Elites in Economic Development (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); Glen David Kuecker, "Latin American Resistance Movements in the Time of the Posts," History Compass, 2, no. 1 (2004), 1-27. doi/; John Williams, Ethics, Diversity, and World Politics: Saving Pluralism from Itself? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 111-148. See also commentaries and studies in: Paul Gootenberg and Luis Reygadas, eds., Indelible Inequalities in Latin America: Insights from History, Politics, and Culture. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).

(5) Pal Klemen, Medieval American Art: Masterpieces of the New World Before Columbus. One-volume Edition (New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1956); Inga Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570 (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1987, reprint 1989), Cambridge Latin American Studies. Susan Schroeder,"The Mexico that Spain Encountered," in Michael C. Meyer, and William H. Beezley, eds., The Oxford History of Mexico (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000), 47-77.

(6) Elinore G. K. Melville, "Land Use and the Transformation of the Environment," in Bulmer-Thomas, Victor, John Coatsworth, and Roberto Cortes-Conde, eds. The Cambridge Economic History of Latin America: Volume 1, The Colonial Era and the Short Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 109-142; Marina Zuloaga Rada, La Conquista Negociada: Guarangas, Autoridades Locales E Imperio En Huaylas, Peru (1532-1610). (Lima, Peru: IFEA, Instituto Frances de Estudios Andino: IEP, Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2012), Estudios Historicos 58.

(7) Colin MacLachlan, Imperialism and the Origins of Mexican Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015).

(8) Barry J. Lyons, Remembering the Hacienda: Religion, Authority, and Social Change in Highland Ecuador (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006), 35; Brooke Larson, Trials of Nation Making: Liberalism, Race, and Ethnicity in the Andes, 1810-1910 (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 4; Jeremy Adelman, ed. Colonial Legacies: The Problem of Persistence in Latin American History (New York, NY: Routledge, 1999).

(9) Williams, Ethics, Diversity, and World Politics, 132.

(10) Eric Van Young, The Other Rebellion: Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Mexican Struggle for Independence, 1810-1821 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001); Karen Caplan, Indigenous Citizens: Local Liberalism in Early National Oaxaca and Yucatan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).

(11) Ruggiero Romano, Mecanismos y elementos del sistema economico colonial americano: Siglos XVI-XVII (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 2004), 172-173.

(12) Vivian Schelling, ed. Through the Kaleidoscope: The Experience of Modernity in Latin America. Translated by Lorraine Leu. (New York, NY: Verso, 2001). Christopher Conway, Nineteenth-Century Spanish America: A Cultural History (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2015).

(13) Williams, Ethics, Diversity, and World Politics, 133; Uday Chandra, "Rethinking Subaltern Resistanrel'to arralof Contemporary Asia 45, no. 4 (2015): 563-573; Luis Reygadas, "The Construction of Latin American Inequalilies," in Gootenterg cd Reygadas, eds., Indelible Inequalities, 23-49: 27; Susan Schroeder, ed., Native Resistance and the Pax Colonial in New Spain. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998); James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).

(14) Uday Chandra. "Rethinking Subaltern Resistance,"; Steve J. Stern, ed., Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness in the Andean Peasant World--18th to 20th Centuries (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987); Karen Spalding, Huarochiri: An Andean Society Under Inca and Spanish Rule (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984), 146-147; Charles Gibson, The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519-1810. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964), 384, 404; Ward Stavig, "Conflict, Violence, and Resistance," in Louisa Schell Hoberman and Susan Migden Socolow, eds., The Countryside in Colonial Latin America (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996), 213-233.

(15) Steve Stern, "The Age of Andean Insurrection," in Stern, ed., Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness, 34-93; Florencia Mallon, "Nationalist and Antistate Coalitions in the War of the Pacific: Junin and Cajamarca, 1879-1902," in Stern, ed., Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness, 232-279.

(16) Larson, Trials of Nation Making, 218-219; Gilbert M. Joseph, "Rethinking Mexican Revolutionary Mobilization: Yucatan's Season of Upheaval," in Stern, ed., Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness, 135-169; Laura Gotkowitz, A Revolution for Our Rights: Indigenous Struggles for Land and Justice in Bolivia, 1880-1952 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 19-21; Christine Hunefeldt, Lucha por la tierra y protesta indigena: Las comunidades indigenas del Peru entre colonia y republica, 1800-1830 (Bonn: Seminar fur Volkerkunde Universitat Bonn, 1982), Bonner Amerikanische Studien 9.

(17) Elizabeth Dore, Myths of Modernity: Peonage and Patriarchy in Nicaragua (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006); Emilio Kouri, A Pueblo Divided: Business, Property, and Community in Papantla, Mexico (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).

(18) Robert Stephen Haskett, Indigenous Rulers: An Ethnohistory of Town Government in Colonial Cuernavaca (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991); Robert W. Patch, Indians and the Political Economy of Colonial Central America, 1670-1810 (Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013).

(19) Karen Graubart, With Our Labor and Sweat: Indigenous Women and the Formation of Colonial Society in Peru, 1550-1700 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007); Alcira Duenas, Indians and Mestizos in the "Lettered City": Reshaping Justice, Social Hierarchy, and Political Culture in Colonial Peru (Boulder, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 2010).

(20) Ann Zulawski, They Eat from Their Labor: Work and Social Change in Colonial Bolivia (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995), Pitt Latin American Series; Jane E Mangan, Trading Roles: Gender, Ethnicity, and the Urban Economy in Colonial Potosi (Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2005), Latin America Otherwise Series.

(21) Barry J. Lyons, Remembering the Hacienda: Religion, Authority, and Social Change in Highland Ecuador (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006), Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture.

(22) Francisco Ferreira and others, Inequality in Latin America: Breaking with History? (Washington, DC: World Bank Publications, 2004); James E Sanders, The Vanguard of the Atlantic World: Creating Modernity, Nation, and Democracy in Nineteenth-Century Latin America (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

Eric L. Palladini Jr., World Bank (IBRD)
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Title Annotation:Special Section: The World from Latin America
Author:Palladini, Eric L., Jr.
Publication:World History Bulletin
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:0LATI
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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