John Lynch’s dedication to the historian’s craft is remarkable. Since 1958 he has composed a steady stream of books and articles on an array of subjects in Latin American and Spanish history, all of them packed with insight and information, all of them of lasting value. If anything, he has picked up the pace in recent years, producing fully realized life-and-times biographies of Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín, and now this survey of Latin America’s “religious history.” The subject of New Worlds: A Religious History of Latin America is not altogether new to the author—he wrote a chapter on the Catholic Church in Latin America from 1830 to 1930 for the Cambridge History of Latin America (1986), and his Bourbon Spain, 1700–1808 (John Wiley & Sons, 1989) includes substantial attention to the politics of Church and state in the 18th century—but it presents a different kind of challenge than his other studies.
His first book, Spanish Colonial Administration, 1782–1810: The Intendant System in the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata (Athlone Press, 1958), remains one of my favorites. It was the first well-researched regional study of the Spanish Bourbons’ reform of provincial government in the American colonies, where intendancies were especially consequential for the collapse of the empire and the politics and economy of a future nation. A touchstone for the narrative thrust of that book is the third Marqués de Sobremonte, celebrated in his time as a model intendant, but a resounding failure when he was promoted to viceroy in a time of crisis. Leaders, political regimes, and decisive events are threads running through all of Lynch’s scholarship. He is a leading authority on Latin America’s independence movements in the early 19th century, and even when he takes on such sweeping subjects as Habsburg and Bourbon Spain (in three volumes) and anchors them in economic and demographic data, it is states, leaders, and political and economic turning points that come to the fore. The same is true in this new book.
Church history and religiosity in Latin America are not subjects for the casual author looking for ripe fruit on a low-hanging branch. It is a vast, controversial field still in great need of original research. The secondary literature is patchy, and much of the best scholarship has been published recently, apparently after Lynch began to write his book since he uses little of it. There is neither a thick base of monographic scholarship to draw upon nor a string of earlier surveys. Up to now, the outstanding attempt by an Anglophone scholar to survey the whole of Church history in the region was published nearly eighty years ago and it limits the discussion to Church-state relations.1 In attempting more, New Worlds makes a very welcome contribution. Its panorama of events, likely turning points, and patterns in Church history will be a touchstone of debate and enlightenment for years to come.
Lynch sets the bar high: “a modern history of religion in Latin America” from the 16th century to the present that promises to account for “all the major issues” and considers “not only the religion of clerical elites, but also the faith of the people” (xii). He promises a “religious history” of Catholicism in Latin America that amounts to “the life of the Church.” New Worlds touches many bases in a largely chronological narrative—the institutional Church, Church-state relations, popular religiosity, various ethnic groups, Protestants and Jews—and it tracks the following developments: early evangelization and the struggle for justice in Christian terms; institution building; a “second conquest” by agents of the Bourbon regime in the 18th century with their “relentless” reform and subordination of the Church; wrenching separations of Church and national states and the decline of the Church’s influence and religious observance during the first half of the 19th century; Romanization of the Church and a “renaissance” of Catholicism from the 1860s to about 1900...
Though much of the earliest scholarship in English began to appear in edited collections published in the 1970s, a handful of historical monographs and journal articles established this new field, analyzing women’s historical experience in relation to legal systems, labor relations, women’s political rights, and the family. Lavrin 1978 introduced some of the earliest research on women available in English and included a sampling of historical as well as social science approaches to women’s experience. Kuznesof 1980, a study of women’s economic activity and female-headed households in Brazil’s early 19th century, established the importance of Latin America’s distinctive relationship to the world economy and helped define the emerging field of Latin American family and women’s history. Several monographs published in the 1980s began to sketch the greater contributions of women’s studies to the study of family, ethnicity, labor, and sexuality in the 19th century: Arrom 1985 presents a comprehensive study of women in education, labor, and family in late colonial and early national Mexico City, while Martínez-Alier 1989 offers a nuanced reading of interracial marriage and concubinage practices in late colonial Cuba. Two single-author collections, Molyneux 2001 and Guy 2000, republish articles that established enduring research orientations for women’s history in the 1980s, including Molyneux’s formulation of women’s practical and strategic gender interest, as well as Guy’s seminal work on women’s labor and vagrancy laws in late-19th-century Argentina. Women’s labor also provides a privileged vantage point for Graham 1992, a study of female servants in Rio de Janeiro in the decades before and after the abolition of slavery. The tendency in 1990s scholarship to merge women’s and gender history was anticipated in Deutsch 1991, a widely read essay that inaugurated the explicit use of gender as a category of analysis, insightfully analyzing political regimes that had dramatically impacted women and gender relations in Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, and Chile. Drawing, in most cases, on extensive archival research, these foundational studies established vital empirical foundations and inaugurated questions about the historical construction of gender inequality, origins that sustain the abundant scholarship that flowed from them.
Arrom, Silvia Marina. The Women of Mexico City, 1790–1857. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1985.
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Through her work with Mexican census, notarial, and church archives, Arrom provides a detailed account of women’s authority as structured by social relations, legal status, family relations, and labor markets. Anticipating later arguments for women’s legal and economic agency in colonial Spanish America by fifteen years, Arrom demonstrated women’s active participation in key economic and social relations in the middle period.
Deutsch, Sandra McGee. “Gender and Sociopolitical Change in Twentieth-Century Latin America.” Hispanic American Historical Review 71.2 (1991): 259–306.
DOI: 10.2307/2515642E-mail Citation »
Deutsch pioneered the use of the category of gender in this clear-eyed analysis of women and states in modern Latin America. Drawing on a limited field of published secondary works, Deutsch analyzed the gendered nature of four political movements: Revolutionary Mexico, Peronist Argentina, the Cuban Revolution, and Allende’s Chile. The essay marks a paradigm shift from women’s history to gender history among US historians of Latin America. Available online for purchase or by subscription.
Graham, Sandra Lauderdale. House and Street: The Domestic World of Servants and Masters in Nineteenth-Century Rio de Janeiro. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.
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Revises the analytical paradigm of casa e rua as a lens for race and class relations in the Brazilian Empire and First Republic, arguing that the experiences of domestic servants in Rio de Janeiro inverted the meanings of public and private space. Graham documents how servant women used “the street” to escape employer surveillance, exchange services for freedom, and create networks of sociability.
Guy, Donna J. White Slavery and Mothers Alive and Dead: The Troubled Meeting of Sex, Gender, Public Health, and Progress in Latin America. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
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This volume combines articles published by social historian Donna Guy in the 1980s, including the seminal 1981 piece “Women, Peonage and Industrialization: Argentina, 1810–1914” (American Research Review 16.3: 65–89), with chapters on Pan Americanism, white slavery, and the welfare state in Latin America. An important record of the shifting agenda of Latin American women’s history in the late-20th-century United States.
Kuznesof, Elizabeth. “The Role of the Female-Headed Household in Brazilian Modernization: São Paulo, 1765–1836.” Journal of Social History 13.4 (1980): 589–613.
DOI: 10.1353/jsh/13.4.589E-mail Citation »
Kuznesof’s groundbreaking research on family organization contributed to the transformation of key methods in Latin American family history. Scrutinizing Brazil’s population census of 1765, 1802, and 1836, this study explains the pervasiveness of female-headed households in late colonial and early empire Brazil as a local response to a transitional stage of economic development that favored women’s domestic manufacturing. Available online for purchase or by subscription.
Lavrin, Asunción, ed. Latin American Women: Historical Perspectives. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1978.
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Collection marks the emergence of the historical study of women in Latin America, edited and with a concluding essay by historian Asunción Lavrin. Though chapters focus predominantly on early Latin America, this collection marked the creation of women’s history as a specialized area of inquiry within the Latin American field, laying critical empirical groundwork for continuing research on women’s role in Latin American families, economy, and politics in the modern period.
Martínez-Alier, Verena. Marriage, Class and Colour in Nineteenth-Century Cuba: A Study of Racial Attitudes and Sexual Values in a Slave Society. 2d ed. Women and Culture Series. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989.
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This early work of historical anthropology examines the effects of the Royal Pragmatic of 1776 on sexuality and race relations in 19th-century Cuba. Based on a close and systematic reading of marriage disputes and seduction cases over several decades, Martínez-Alier charted new terrain for students of Latin American women and gender.
Molyneux, Maxine. Women’s Movements in International Perspective: Latin America and Beyond. New York: Palgrave, 2001.
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This collection brings together Molyneux’s key essays, published in a variety of scholarly journals, including the 1986 study “No God, No Boss, No Husband” (American Perspectives 13.1: 119–145), an important article on the woman question in a late-19th-century Argentine anarchist journal. Includes key articles theorizing women’s mobilization and socialist states.