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Volume 54 / Humanities

HISTORY: 19th and 20th Centuries


PETER S. LINDER, Associate Professor of History, New Mexico Highlands University

The historical profession in Venezuela continues to mature, while interest in Venezuela outside the country continues to grow. Topics in Venezuelan history are increasingly visible at national and international conferences. For example, at the 2007 International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association in Montréal, one panel focused on links between race, culture, and identity in 19th-century Venezuela. The prospect for continued advances is bright. Nevertheless, traditional political history still represents a large share of the work being published. The works reviewed for this volume reflect a strong emphasis on political issues, even more so than in recent volumes. A substantial number of the items reviewed here focus on Simón Bolívar and the origins and early history of the Republic of Venezuela. Evident interest in the independence and post-independence periods may be driven in part by the approaching bicentennial anniversary of independence. In addition to political history, a number of useful works focus on social and economic history, in particular studies with a regional or local focus. Useful works dealing with the evolution of Venezuelan culture and national identity have also been published.

Many recent studies highlight the continuing relevance of Simon Bolívar and his image. This focus is perhaps a reflection of the appropriation of Bolívar by the current government as a source of political legitimacy. Alexis Ortiz argues explicitly that the Chávez administration has distorted and misused Bolívar's persona for political advantage, and makes the case that the Liberator belongs to all Venezuelans (item #bi2006003930#). Two other works, by Mario Hernández Sánchez-Barba and Luis José Silva Luongo, attempt to understand Bolívar as a historical actor within a specific context, rather than attempting to mythologize or denigrate him (items #bi2006003933# and #bi2006003923#).

Quite a few recent studies analyze the origins, evolution, and function of the state in the 19th and 20th centuries. Julián Fuentes-Figueroa Rodríguez provides a detailed narrative of the collapse of the Second Republic (item #bi2006003932#). Another work relevant for Venezuela's current political situation is a study by Alva León de Labarca and Juan Carlos Morales Manzur (item #bi2006003936#). The authors examine efforts by Francisco de Miranda, Simón Bolívar, and Pedro Gual to forge Latin American unity and solidarity as a means of counterbalancing British and American power. A useful collection of essays edited by Domingo Irwin G. explores the problematic relationship between the military and the state from the early republic to the Chávez administration (item #bi2006003941#). Several essays raise questions about the implications for the future of this relationship. Antonio Moreno Molina's interesting book probes the nature of politics and public administration during the administration of José Gregorio Monagas (item #bi2006003935#). He argues that the Monagas brothers failed to achieve political legitimacy, contributing to the failure of their government and chronic political instability. Carlos Julio Tavera focuses on the administration of president Rojas Paul (1888–90) as an affirmation of civilian rule and a turning point in the decay of Antonio Guzmán Blanco's power (item #bi2006003939#). Doug Yarrington argues that the political corruption surrounding General Juan Vicente Gómez's involvement in the cattle business helped to strengthen the national state (item #bi2008002146#).

Two studies of political violence merit consideration. Micheal Tarver provides a brief analysis of the unsuccessful leftist guerrilla movements of the 1960s; he asserts that determined American support for the elected government and the rebels' failure to gain popular support doomed their insurgencies (item #bi2006003945#). Long-time journalist Jesús Sanoja Hernández has produced a four-volume study of political upheavals in Venezuela from 1945 to the 1990s (item #bi2008002147#). Vol. 4 consists of photographs chronicling the coups, uprisings, and other outbreaks of political violence of the 20th century.

A number of works explore the history of political ideas and ideology. Jonathan Eastwood attempts to analyze the 19th-century origins of Venezuelan nationalism (item #bi2007001873#). Gustavo Adolfo Vaamonde argues that Guzmán Blanco played a crucial role in the application of European ideologies—particularly liberalism and Comptean Positivism—to Venezuelan society (item #bi2006003928#). A particularly interesting study is Reyber Parra Contreras' study of the responses of Maracaibo's intellectual elite to the centralization efforts of the national state between 1870 and 1926 (item #bi2006003943#).

In addition to the study by Parra Contreras, a number of regionally and locally focused works deserve mention. Professor Germán Cardozo Galué was recently inducted into the Academia Nacional de la Historia, and his published discurso makes a cogent argument for regional approaches to historical analysis, in keeping with the diversity of Venezuela's historical experience (item #bi2008002148#). A number of regional studies reviewed here focus on economic and social questions. Long out of print, Alicia Ardao's pioneering and important study of the impact of coffee cultivation on the cities of the Venezuelan Andes has been published in a new edition by the Biblioteca de Autores y Temas Tachirenses (item #bi2006003927#). Lucila Mújica examines the economic and social impact of the Ferrocarril Bolívar on the region bounded by Tucacas and Barquisimeto (item #bi2006003934#). Swedish historian Magnus Mörner has produced a detailed survey of the economic and social history of Ocumare de la Costa and its environs. Of particular interest are his focus on environmental changes and his application of economic theories to the region's history (item #bi2008002149#). A collection produced by Alfredo E. Salazar Belloso provides insights into agricultural policy in the state of Zulia during the administration of Dr. José Encarnación Serrano (1937–38) (item #bi2008002884#).

One of the most important developments of this period is the continued—though still somewhat limited—production of works examining the history of popular culture and cultural change in Venezuela. In a fascinating book, Rafael Cartay explores the emergence of a modern outlook and customs among the inhabitants of late 19th and early 20th-century Caracas (item #bi2006003924#). Among the aspects of modernity he examines are practices related to work, recreation, sex, and death. Another work useful in exploring the changing nature of Venezuelan society is a memoir edited by Emperatriz Arreaza Camero (item #bi2008003700#), in which María Boscán de Prado chronicles growing up in the Sur del Lago de Maracaibo and her subsequent life in Maracaibo.

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