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Volume 64 / Humanities

HISTORY: 19th AND 20th CENTURIES


Bolivia

ERICK D. LANGER, Professor of History, Georgetown University

THE POLITICAL PROBLEMS IN BOLIVIA have continued and so has the crisis in publishing on modern Bolivia. Fewer serious historical works written by Bolivians have appeared—or at least have reached the US—than before. Many works by Bolivians are compendia and do not include much primary research. The notable exceptions are the first two volumes of the posthumous collected works of the long-time Director of the National Archives, Gunnar Mendoza (item #bi2007003656#), which show his exquisite use of documentary sources on the independence movement, as well as many topics on colonial Potosí and Sucre.

Among the compendia, the most important is the work of Oscar Vargas and Juan Carlos Montecinos, who summarized the biographies of all the foreign ministers of Bolivia since independence (item #bi2007003589#). Also notable in this regard is the history of private enterprise in Bolivia by Ricardo Sanjinés (item #bi2007003654#). A bit less convincing is the history of the British pound sterling, which turns out to be mainly a denunciation of the1952 deal to sell off these coins by the revolutionary regime of Víctor Paz Estenssoro.

The 19th century has received less attention than in previous years with the few works focusing mainly on political culture. Cristóbal Aljovín de Losada (item #bi2005004320#) provides an interesting analysis of political rituals during the Andrés de Santa Cruz administration (1829–39). Rossana Barragán (item #bi2006002105#) analyzes the legal codes of the 19th century, showing how they perpetuated old social hierarachies, whereas Heather Thiessen-Reily (item #bi2007003343#) demonstrates how, under the Manuel I. Belzú administration (1848–55), indigenous peoples were included conceptually in ritual and coinage. In turn, Paura Rodríguez (item #bi2007003595#) examines female readership of newspapers in 19th-century Sucre.

Mostly non-Bolivian authors have contributed to the history of Bolivia's wars. William Sater (item #bi2007003376#) has written a very readable and balanced account of the War of the Pacific (1879–84). Juan Albarracín Millán focused on the Treaty of 1904, which ceded Bolivia's coastal territory to Chile. The Chaco War has also received new scrutiny. A major portion of René de la Pedraja's book on Latin American wars (item #bi2007003655#) is dedicated to the Chaco War (1932–35), though Bolivian leaders do not fare well in this analysis. Matthew Hughes (item #bi2007003344#) concentrates on unfavorable logistics during the Chaco War to explain Bolivia's defeat. Ann Zulawski also has an excellent chapter on health services on the front during the war (item #bi2007001876#). Irma Lorini continues with her political history of 20th-century Bolivia (item #bi2007003590#), showing how true nationalism developed in the country only after the Chaco War.

One area that has received relatively much attention is indigenous peoples and conceptions about them in the early 20th century. Silvia Giraudo and Patricia Arenas (item #bi2005007995#) demonstrate the modernist (and racist) assumptions behind the study of Bolivian indigenous peoples in the French expedition of 1903. Brooke Larson (item #bi2005004323#) looks at much the same issue (also adding the mestizo into the mix), but through the lens of four important Bolivian intellectuals. Françoise Martínez's dissertation on the role of education in the same period (item #bi2007003588#) also looks at the elite's attempts to "regenerate" the Indian masses. Robert Smale (item #bi2005001459#) argues that the Bolivian state made possible the exploitation of the indigenous communities to promote the mining economy, whereas Laura Gotkowitz (item #bi2005004321#) analyzes different political visions of Indians and elites during the 1947 Ayopaya Indian rebellion. In a similar vein, but also encompassing the rest of society, is Ann Zulawski's brilliant set of essays on medicine in early 20th-century Bolivia (item #bi2007001876#). The only serious work on the Bolivian Oriente is that of Pilar García Jordán (item #bi2008002459#) who examined the Franciscan missions among the Guarayo Indians.

The second half of the 20th century is curiously almost absent in current publications, making an appearance only in items (only items #bi2005004486# and #bi2005004631#). Perhaps the new political regime in Bolivia makes the period after the Bolivian Revolution of 1952 appear a too recent event from which to draw conclusions, since it is not clear what the future will bring. One hopes that the present turmoil will produce great work in the future, for there are many excellent Bolivian historians whose works need to be published.


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