Uruguayans living in the country and abroad have written most of the books listed here. Thus, most of these works are written in Spanish. Current Uruguayan historiography concentrates in three periods: (i) Independence with a focus on José Artigas and the regional anti-colonial fight that involved the former Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, (ii) the early-twentieth-century “Batllista” movement that shaped modern Uruguay with its radical reforms, and (iii) the crisis (1960s) and dictatorship (1973–1985) with an emphasis of the post-1985 legacies. The history of Uruguay before 1904 may be divided into three broad subperiods: the colonial era (1580–1810), revolution and independence (1810–1860), and modernization (1860–1904). Note that this chronology does not correspond strictly to how Uruguayan historians divide pre-1904 Uruguayan history. The post-1904 periodization presented here matches more accurately the perspectives of Uruguayan scholarship. The division in 1904 marks the end of the 19th-century civil wars and the beginning of modern Uruguay under the political, economic, social, and cultural reforms encouraged by the presidencies of José Batlle y Ordóñez. The 1904 landmark is also a useful but approximate transition to chart the usage of terms referring to the people of this country: Orientales and Uruguayans. The term Banda Oriental, or Eastern Bank, referred to the territory east of the Uruguay River, currently Uruguay. The predominant term for people born in the territory of modern-day Uruguay was Orientales, given that this land was called Banda Oriental, Provincia Oriental, and, after independence, Estado Oriental del Uruguay and its current name República Oriental del Uruguay. The descendants of the Spaniards, the criollos of Montevideo and its countryside called themselves Orientales in the late colonial period and during the 19th century. The Constitutional Assembly named the new state as Estado Oriental del Uruguay in May 1829 drawing on the prevalent term Oriental. Usage in the early 20th century, when massive European immigration changed the demographics of Uruguay, increasingly made the terms “Uruguay” and “Uruguayan” prevalent, but without eliminating the expression Orientales that still is employed by Uruguayans.
Colonial Period (1580–1810): Traditional Studies
The study of colonial Uruguay is deeply intertwined with the history of the larger Río de la Plata region stretching from Paraguay to Buenos Aires. While permanent European settlements in the territory of what is today Uruguay were established late in comparison with the rest of Latin America, the 1580 foundation of Buenos Aires on the southern shore of the Río de la Plata (River Plate) marks the beginning of permanent European colonization for the region including the northern shore of the River Plate. Short-lived European settlements in the littoral of the Uruguay River were built by the Spanish expedition commanded by the Venetian explorer Sebastian Cabot, known in Spanish as Gaboto, in the 1520s, close to what would become the area where the Franciscan Order attempted to found missions among the Charrúa and Chaná indigenous groups in the 1620s (near today’s Soriano, Uruguay). During most of the 17th century, Uruguay was known as Banda Norte because it was the northern bank of the Río de la Plata as well as Banda Oriental, as previously seen. This land was a place of passage, intermittent European occupation, scenario of Spanish-Amerindian interactions, and a place of military and administrative jurisdiction for the Spanish colonists in Buenos Aires. The first permanent European settlement on the northern shore of the River Plate was Colonia del Sacramento, founded by the Portuguese across the river from Buenos Aires in 1680. The Spanish of Buenos Aires established Montevideo in 1726 to stop Portuguese encroachment in the bay of Montevideo, the best harbor for ocean-going vessels in the region. In the colonial era, the territory of what is today Uruguay was under overlapping and sometimes competing jurisdictions of Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and the Guarani Missions ran by the Jesuit Order. The Portuguese had jurisdiction over Colonia almost continuously between 1680 and 1777. Most studies on colonial Uruguay focuses on the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata (1776–1810), when the population of Montevideo grew exponentially due to the combined effects of Spanish immigration and Atlantic commerce (Bentancur 1999), regional migrants from Paraguay and the central and northern provinces of what is today Argentina, and the trade of enslaved Africans. Most of the traditional works on colonial Uruguay focus on Montevideo’s population (Apolant 1975) and its commerce as well as on the socio-economic history of the countryside to find the roots of the revolution against the colonial regime (Pivel Devoto 1952; Sala, et al. 1968).
Apolant, Juan A. Génesis de la familia uruguaya: Los habitantes de Montevideo en sus primeros 40 años. Filiaciones. Ascendencias. Entronques. Descendencias. 4 vols. Montevideo, Uruguay: Vinaak, 1975.
Classic work of a genealogist, it contains most available data from parish records as well as from other sources for the first forty years of Spanish Montevideo (1726–1766). Not for beginners, this is an essential companion of research for the colonial Banda Oriental to examine family links, individual vignettes, demographic analysis, and so on.
Bentancur, Arturo. El Puerto Colonial de Montevideo. 2 vols. Montevideo, Uruguay: FHCE, 1999.
Multivolume study on the merchant community of Montevideo: Vol. 1, Guerras y apertura comercial: tres lustros de crecimiento económico (1791–1806), 1997; Vol. 2. Los años de crisis (1807–1814). It argues against the topic of the “fight of ports” between Buenos Aires and Montevideo as precursor of Uruguayan independence. Instead, Montevideo grew as a port servicing Buenos Aires from the fall of Colonia del Sacramento in 1777 up to 1807. The second volume analyzes the disintegration of this merchant community as war and revolution engulfed the Banda Oriental.
Pivel Devoto, Juan E. Raíces coloniales de la Revolución Oriental de 1811. Montevideo, Uruguay: Monteverde, 1952.
Foundational book on how the political, economic, and social history of the countryside shaped the rise of José Artigas during the revolution. Pivel argues that the late colonization of the Banda Oriental was advanced by the cattle-ranching economy that attracted the Spanish and the Portuguese, which in turn led to a complex process of recognition of private land ownership—a central issue later during the times of Artigas.
Reyes Abadie, Washington, Oscar Bruschera, and Tabaré Melogno. La Banda Oriental: Pradera, frontera, puerto. Montevideo, Uruguay: Ediciones de la Banda Oriental, 1965.
Foundational interpretation of Uruguayan colonial history as the result of the intersection of fertile grasslands (pradera) providing the environment for the gaucho cattle-ranching economy, the borderlands (frontera) shaping the conflicts between the Portuguese and Spanish empires as well as the legal and illegal trade across borders, and the port (puerto) stressing the geopolitical significance of Montevideo for the Spanish South Atlantic.
Sala, Lucía, Nelson de la Torre, and Julio Rodríguez. Estructura económico-social de la colonia. Montevideo, Uruguay: Ediciones Pueblos Unidos, 1968.
Influential work on the economics and society of colonial Banda Oriental from a Marxist interpretation. See additional works produced by this team, particularly on José Artigas and by Lucía Sala on the 1820s, which provides a comprehensive and scholarly interpretation of capital, labor forces, modes of productions, social classes, including slaves, through the lens of historical materialism.
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