In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cultural History

  • Introduction
  • General Works
  • Architecture
  • Art
  • Cinema
  • Cuisine
  • Literature
  • Music and Media
  • Religion, Public Celebration, and Dance
  • Sport, Leisure, and Tourism

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

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Latin American Studies Cultural History
Andrew Grant Wood
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0012


In the most inclusive sense, culture involves the creation and communication of meaning among individuals in any particular society. More recent thinking on the subject falls into two basic categories: (1) culture as practiced in daily life and (2) culture as taking shape in more institutionalized settings as persons engage in a creative process. No longer wedded to the notion of culture as consisting of only “high” expressions made manifest in traditional art categories such as literature, music, and the visual arts, today the practice of cultural history has expanded into a much wider and deeper appreciation of human interaction and expression. Food, fashion, film, performance, ritual, and sports—just to mention a few newer areas of inquiry—are now included in what is commonly termed “popular culture.” Furthermore, agriculture, cuisine, clothing, craft, festivals, sexuality, sports, and travel, among other undertakings, have either long or more recently been considered grist for the cultural history mill. Redefining Latin American cultural history has, in short, constituted a challenge to past approaches. Yet despite its promise, the so-called new cultural history is by no means a unified or wholly coherent field. Much ink has been spilled debating the relative merits of the discipline. Out of this has come, among other things, charges that cultural history is largely a US academic trend with little to no resonance in “Latin America.” This article’s aim is not to chime in on these controversies or necessarily compile an exhaustive listing of cultural history works both past and present. That undertaking would be impossible. The idea here is to provide a basic overview of the field both in its “high” and more “popular” registers, while leaving more precise assessment of particular methodological, epistemological, and political matters for another time, place, and more appropriate forum. For our purposes here, Latin America will be defined in a relatively traditional manner: principally those areas located across the present-day Spanish Americas, the Caribbean, and Brazil. The importance of pre-Columbian and colonial history notwithstanding, the purview here is largely concentrated on works dealing with the “modern” (i.e. national) period. Consideration of the Franco and Anglophone Caribbean then is, for the most part, excluded. Finally, with a few exceptions, this article does not include works that deal specifically with only one national context and/or any particular subculture within (i.e., Latino or Chicano studies) because to try to include something touching on every single region would prove nearly impossible. All cited sources reveal in some way or another Latin American cultural history as important, vibrant, fascinating, and diverse in its many manifestations past, present, and future.

General Works

Sources listed here are exemplary (although by no means exhaustive) for their scope and depth in surveying Latin American cultural history. From older approaches to cultural history (Bethell 1998) to more recent reconceptualizations in both wider survey (King 2004) to popular culture (Rowe and Schelling 1991, Beezley and Curcio-Nagy 2000) to subaltern studies (Rodríguez 2001), cultural theory (García Canclini 1995), and a specific regional focus on culture, identity, and tradition (Benítez Rojo 1996), this section offers a sampling of important works in the field.

  • Beezley, William H., and Linda Curcio-Nagy, eds. Latin American Popular Culture: An Introduction. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2000.

    This sampling of essays on popular culture is a solid starting point for students of Latin American history.

  • Benítez Rojo, Antonio, ed. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective. 2d ed. Translated by James Maraniss. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.

    Benítez Rojo’s musings on Pan-Caribbean culture are richly informed and follow in the tradition of previous scholars such as C. L. R. James.

  • Bethell, Leslie, ed. A Cultural History of Latin America: Literature, Music and the Visual Arts in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

    This collection provides an informative overview of cultural history’s traditional big three: literature, music, and visual arts.

  • García Canclini, Nestor, ed. Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity. Translated by Christopher L. Chiappari and Silvia L. López. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

    Pioneering discussion of society that argues for the acknowledgment of mixed cultures increasingly based in urban settings as well as political resistance engendered in popular culture.

  • King, John, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Modern Latin American Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521631513

    One of the most up-to-date, concise, and comprehensive treatments of Latin American cultural history. Essays include discussions of modern Spanish American and Brazilian literature and poetry, music, theater, film, art, and architecture. A specific chapter on popular culture as well as a section on “Hispanic USA” added to an opening piece on pre-Columbian and colonial culture nicely rounds out the survey.

  • Rodríguez, Iliana, ed. The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

    This volume provides a sampling of subaltern studies with an important discussion connecting Latin America to other world regions.

  • Rowe, William, and Vivian Schelling, eds. Memory and Modernity: Popular Culture in Latin America. London: Verso, 1991.

    Rowe and Schelling provide a synthetic overview of Latin American popular culture from colonial to contemporary eras. Their defining of modernity in the Latin American context is one that appreciates how tradition is incorporated rather than excluded. Fruitful analysis of the relation between folklore and mass culture lies at the heart of their discussion.

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