In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Spanish America After Independence, 1825-1900

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Guides
  • Data Sources

Atlantic History Spanish America After Independence, 1825-1900
Clément Thibaud
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 January 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0178


The independence of Spanish America was the unexpected outcome of the monarchy’s rupture following the 1808 Napoleonic invasion. It resulted in an ensemble of motley republics that were confronted by serious difficulties throughout the 19th century. Independence had, in effect, created nations with blurred boundaries and precarious identities. Above all, the legacies of the colonial era were maintained since the new republics did not abolish old Spanish law. It remained in force nearly everywhere in the region up until the end of the 19th century. Social distinctions founded on honor, labor, race, and gender had admittedly been destroyed on a constitutional level, but they still remained rooted in society. Nearly everywhere, the construction of the nation and the modern state was a task made all the more complex by the preservation of a complicated corporate framework and the affirmation of local and regional authorities’ power. Thus, the fact that the legacies of the Spanish monarchy remained very much alive in the republics until the end of the 19th century justifies the inclusion of this century within the field of Atlantic history. This bibliographical choice has selected works that illustrate the tensions particular to Spanish America throughout the republican period following the creation of the Republic of Bolivia, which marked the end of the Wars of Independence (1825). Indeed, these are divided between the desire to create a set of modern republics, founded on equal citizenship and forward progress, and the postcolonial persistence of social practices and institutions of the ancien régime. It is for this reason that so much emphasis has been placed on the 19th century herein, as political, cultural, and social episodes marked the relative, but progressive, erosion of colonial practices. The “modern” mutation of South America was thus regulated by important moments which appear in the chronological and thematic choice of the works cited: the maintenance and abolition of slavery, the granting of citizenship to Indians and Afro-descendants, yet the persistence of discriminations based on color and race; grand midcentury liberal reforms and the preservation of influence by privileged entities like the Church and the army, the difficult construction of the modern state, the nation, and democratic systems; the progressive deterioration of corporate social structures and of the fueros; and the end of the Spanish presence in Cuba and Puerto Rico in 1898 and the reinsertion of Latin America into the networks of the global economy at the end of the century and, finally, a new wave of European immigration. I have hardly sketched out the economic themes in this bibliography except for in the section International Relations: From Spanish Empire to British “Informal Empire”?. These themes are fundamental to understanding the history, Atlantic or otherwise, of South America in the 19th century. Additionally, an emphasis has been placed on those political and social works that tend to be included, more or less, in an Atlantic perspective. Books in English and Spanish, the principal scientific languages in this field of study, are favored, and translations in these languages are cited where available. However, good books exist in German, Italian, French, and Portuguese, many of which deserved, in all fairness, to be included in this selection. Translated from French by Andrew H. Bellisari.

General Overviews

General works on modern Spanish America do not exist in the methodological field of Atlantic history yet. Chronologically, this perspective is still associated with early modern history. Furthermore, until now, many Latin American historians have remained hostile to the Atlantic perspective, which they judge to be too marked by US academic influence. Since the 1990s, the transplantation of subaltern studies to the Hispano-American realm under the impulsion of Florencia Mallon (see Mallon 1995, cited under Class and Race Relations) has nonetheless introduced a certain number of social and racial thematics close to Atlantic history in general. Moreover, it is necessary to underline that the influence of “new political history,” dear to François-Xavier Guerra (see Guerra 1992, cited under A New Political Culture), was instrumental in precipitating a remarkable renewal in the study of a 19th century heretofore snubbed by researchers. This historiographical paradigm belongs fully to Atlantic history, as it analyzes the sociopolitical effects of Atlantic revolutions in the long term at the Euro-American scale (Africa remaining, it is true, little present in this approach). General works, such as Bethell 1986, Chevalier 1999, Vázquez and Miño Grijalva 2003, and Ayala Mora and Posada Carbó 2008, are thus consecrated to the history of Latin America in general without particular reference to Atlantic history, but they constitute an obligatory point of departure.

  • Ayala Mora, Enrique, and Eduardo Posada Carbó. Historia general de América Latina. Vol. 7, Los proyectos nacionales latinoamericanos: Sus instrumentos y articulación, 1870–1930. Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 2008.

    The work addresses the period in a thematic way, with chapters dedicated to important events such as the Mexican Revolution, and a particular insistence on political transformations.

  • Bernecker, Walther L., Raymond T. Buve, John Robert Fisher, et al., eds. Handbuch der Geschichte Lateinamerikas. Vol. 2, Lateinamerika von 1760 bis 1900. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1992.

    This survey in German adopts both a regional and a thematic outline (demography, economy, society, culture) with specialized bibliographies. A good starting point for undergraduate students.

  • Bethell, Leslie, ed. The Cambridge History of Latin America. Vols. 3–5. London: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

    The third volume of this collection collects an ensemble of surveys organized by country that favors a political approach while emphasizing the dialectic between rupture and continuity with the colonial regime from Independence to 1870. It also brings together complete bibliographic essays that take stock of Anglo-American works in particular. The fourth volume addresses economic, demographic, social, and cultural topics with all the usual important rubrics for the period 1870–1930. Additionally, it favors serial history and provides a good statistical summary of the principal evolutions that characterize the end of the 19th century. Contains a number of useful maps and graphics. The fifth volume (1870–1930), divided up by large regions and nations, reverts to the structure of the third.

  • Chevalier, François. América Latina: De la Independencia a nuestros días. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1999.

    Translated from the 1993 French edition, this work combines socioeconomic and political approaches from Independence to the present. Contains a bibliography of 1,427 works, most of which are in Spanish and French, a detailed chronology, and maps and figures. Presents the principal results of research from the postwar era up through the “political turn” of the 1990s. A good starting point for graduate students.

  • Vázquez, Josefina, and Manuel Miño Grijalva, dir. Historia general de América Latina. Vol. 6, La construcción de las naciones latinoamericanas, 1820–1870. Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 2003.

    This volume presents comprehensive and up-to-date summaries of different political, social, and cultural topics. Aimed primarily at an educated audience and undergraduates. Contains a complete general bibliography for publications in Spanish.

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