In This Article Venezuela and the Atlantic World

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Resources and Journals

Atlantic History Venezuela and the Atlantic World
by
Alejandro E. Gómez, Nicolás Ocaranza
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0228

Introduction

The geo-historical region of Venezuela, like other Latin American territories during the modern age, has been most frequently studied from an Atlantic perspective by scholars working on different subjects such as slavery, colonialism, revolutions, and imperialism. Nevertheless, the scholarly production for the period about that territory is still small compared to that for Cuba, Brazil, Peru, New Granada, New Spain, and Río de la Plata. This is mainly due to the slight interest that European and, most particularly, US academia has traditionally shown for the past of that region of the world. Paradoxically enough, there is probably no other geo-historical space in Spanish America—with the exception of Cuba—with as many transnational connections as had the mainland of northern South America. Moreover, its geographical location facing the Caribbean Sea, its numerous afro-descendant population, and the many connections it established with the Lesser Antilles (especially with the Dutch island of Curaçao) created a particular dynamic which made it a part of the historical system of the Caribbean and to develop strong ties, mainly through contraband, with other non-Hispanic regions in the Atlantic world. Despite that, only a handful of Venezuelan and non-Venezuelan historians have developed transnational approaches for the study of the referred mainland in the period in question. There are of course honorable exceptions, which in most cases can be found in works that carry out true historiographical dialogues, especially regarding Curaçao and, during the early stages of the Age of Revolution, the French Antilles. An important crossroads in the study of the mainland is the island of Trinidad, which remained part of the Captaincy General of Venezuela until it fell into British hands in 1797. Thus it joined other regions in the Caribbean and the Atlantic world not studied by scholars working on Venezuela, other than to identify the ideological “roots” of the revolutions in the mainland, to study the circulation of patriots in the Antilles, or, and most frequently, to follow the paths of certain revolutionary leaders. The two most studied cases are those of Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Miranda, whose lives and travels throughout the Atlantic world have inspired a great number of studies. Finally, the historiography on the wars of Independence and the post-independence period in the 19th century, in spite of its research potential, remains largely dominated by local national or Latin American perspectives. Something similar could be argued regarding the 16th and 17th centuries, with the exception of certain seminal works on the Welser expeditions and the formation of the white Creole elite of Caracas, respectively.

General Overviews

During the first half of the 20th century a nationalist approach to Venezuelan history prevented scholars from making connections between local events and global processes. For this reason there are no general surveys which specifically study the history of Venezuela as a whole connected to the Atlantic world. However, as well as other Latin American historiographies, we found several works focused on local, regional, or national subjects from transnational or imperial approaches. The focus of these studies may be categorized and defined as Spanish Atlantic perspectives. Most of the works in this section accomplish this refreshing approach, such as continental, entangled, or comparative histories, and cover a wide range of topics on colonial and postcolonial Venezuela from the Age of Revolutions until the early 20th century. The opportunity has been taken to include some seminal overviews of the history of Venezuela. Straka 2012 explores the historiographical problems and possibilities of an Atlantic approach to the history of Venezuela, and Boersner 1978 notices the impossibility of understanding local history if the four-century-long intellectual, economic, and political connections within the Caribbean are denied. Baralt 1841 is a classic book that provides a detailed overview of the process of transition of a colonial society of the Spanish Empire into an independent republic. Caballero 1997 offers a brief compendium of the history of Venezuela from the conquest to the 20th-century dictatorships. Langue 1999 connects the local with the global and focuses on the sociocultural changes and political conflicts in the different phases of colonial and revolutionary Venezuela, and later the author looked inside the Federal War and contemporary Bolivarian Socialism. Meanwhile, Lieuwen 1961 checks a similar historical chronology but offers a valuable macro view of political tensions among liberal and federals in the 19th century and of the oil economy in the 20th. Morón 1963 offers a better perspective on the indigenous societies and the Spanish colonization, but at the same time it evaluates the 19th century and the projection of the caudillismo onto the autocratic governments. The monumental work Brito Figueroa 1986 is a must-read to understand the structural dynamics of capitalism from the 16th to the 20th century. Lombardi and Carrera Damas 1977 offers to scholars and students a useful bibliographic compilation that can be complemented with the excellent Diccionario de Historia de Venezuela.

  • Baralt, Rafael. Resumen de la historia de Venezuela. 3 vols. Paris: Imprenta de H. Fournier y Compañía, 1841.

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    A classic historical compendium focused on the history of early modern and modern Venezuela. Inspired by European Romantic historiography, this book explores the consolidation, crisis, and dissolution of the Spanish colonial system and investigates the key political and military leaders of the War of Independence.

  • Boersner, Demetrio. Venezuela y el Caribe: Presencia cambiante. Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 1978.

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    In this study, Boersner shows that from the age of the conquest the history of Venezuela can’t be understood without considering the geopolitical and commercial connections with the Caribbean and the Atlantic world. These connections are strongly influenced by a changing political scenario where international relations have played a role of mediator between the colonial and neocolonial Empires.

  • Brito Figueroa, Federico. Historia económica y social de Venezuela. 4 vols. Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1986.

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    One of the first interdisciplinary studies on colonial and postcolonial Venezuela in a global context. From a socioeconomic approach, based on major documentary and statistical sources, this exhaustive research examines the structural dynamics of capitalism in Venezuela in the longue durée.

  • Caballero, Manuel. De la pequeña Venecia a la Gran Venezuela. Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 1997.

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    A brief overview that summarizes the history of Venezuelan society from the early colonial era to the 20th century. This work is a good starting point for understanding the complexities of the conquest, the fate of the revolution of Independence, the collapse of the Gran Colombia project, the making of the republic, the modernization of the state, and the outbreak of dictatorial governments.

  • Diccionario de historia de Venezuela. 4 vols. Caracas: Fundación Polar, 2007–2011.

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    Deeply informed, this dictionary is the best place to start any historical research on Venezuela. Each entry has been written by several Venezuelan scholars, and the work includes an extensive bibliography. It is composed of four volumes ordered alphabetically by entry. Available also in CD format.

  • Langue, Frédérique. Histoire du Venezuela, de la conquête à nos jours. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1999.

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    Connecting local with global history, this book analyzes the socioeconomic, political, and cultural changes of a country faced with socio-ethnic and military conflicts. Langue argues that throughout four centuries, various phases of violence can be traced through different historical conjunctures such as the plantation economy in the Spanish imperial era, the Independence revolution that became a civil war, and the Bolivarian Socialism led by Hugo Chavez.

  • Lieuwen, Edwin. Venezuela. London: Oxford University Press, 1961.

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    The author writes a concise reference work aimed at a wide audience. Although Lieuwen gives relatively little attention to the colonial era, instead his purpose is to analyze the economic and political problems of contemporary Venezuela as a set of conflicts over liberalism and federalism, the oil economy, and the international relations of the Betancourt government.

  • Lombardi, John, and Germán Carrera Damas. Venezuelan History: A Comprehensive Working Bibliography. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1977.

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    Due to its more than four thousand references, this compilation is the gateway that all researchers interested in the history of Venezuela need. Carrera Damas and Lombardi organize the extensive bibliography not only by chronology, with chapters on the history of the 1810s to the 1930s, but also thematically, with chapters focused on issues such as “Bolívar” or “petroleum.”

  • Morón, Guillermo. A History of Venezuela. New York: Roy Publishers, 1963.

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    Morón reviews the composition of indigenous societies and the exploration of the coasts and lands of this strategic colony of the Spanish Empire. Furthermore, this book examines the process of integration and disintegration that determined the transformation of a colonial society into an independent nation. For the author, in the 19th and 20th centuries the people play a key role in the achievement of different political regimes such as autocracy, dictatorship, and representative democracy.

  • Straka, Tomás. “Venezuela en la revolución atlántica: Algunos problemas y posibilidades.” Anuario de Estudios Atlánticos 58 (2012): 185–214.

    E-mail Citation »

    A historiographical overview which undoubtedly constitutes the first serious attempt to reconcile the Venezuelan historiography of the revolutionary period with the many paradigms of Atlantic history and also with what the author defines as the “Caribbean revolutions.”

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