Latin American Studies Andrés Bello
Iván Jaksic
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0080


Andrés Bello (b. 1781–d. 1865) is widely recognized as a leading Latin American intellectual whose life spanned the late colonial period, the independence process, and the postindependence building of new nations. He lived in three cities, all of which had a major impact in his life, career, and thought: Caracas (1781–1810), London (1810–1829), and Santiago de Chile (1829–1865). During the first period, he received his university education, joined the colonial administration as a minor official, and was recruited by the new provisional junta established in 1810 in response to the Spanish imperial crisis. In London he was commissioned, along with Simón Bolívar and Luis López Méndez, to secure the support of Great Britain in case of a French invasion or retaliation on the part of the recently established Spanish Council of Regency. The diplomatic mission failed in these objectives, and Venezuela soon collapsed before a royalist assault. Bello remained in England for nineteen years, initially barely making ends meet and eventually representing Chile and Colombia as legation secretary. He was recruited by the government of Chile in 1828 to join its fledgling nation-state in an administrative capacity, first in the ministry of finance and then in the ministry of foreign relations. Chile proved to be a congenial place for Bello’s impressive level of activity. He was editor of the official newspaper El Araucano, prolific contributor to other journals, teacher, senator for twenty-seven years, founder and rector of the University of Chile, and author of works that, once collected, numbered twenty-six volumes. He is best known for his Principles of International Law (1832, 1844, 1864), Grammar of the Spanish Language (1847, 1850, 1853, 1857, 1860), and Civil Code of the Republic of Chile (1855), but a fuller assessment must consider the wide range of his interdisciplinary concerns, including philosophy, poetry, education, literary criticism, and science. In political terms he was first a loyal member of the imperial government, then a supporter of constitutional monarchy when independence seemed imminent, and eventually a committed republican once independence was secured. His main concern became providing the new republican systems with enough authority and legitimacy to become self-sustaining. It is for this reason that he contributed to the writing of the constitution of 1833, a highly centralist constitution with strong executive powers, and then he devoted over twenty years to reforming civil legislation to provide a stable environment for the rule of law to prosper. He became influential far beyond Chile and his native Venezuela. In the early twenty-first century virtually no country in Latin America is without some university, street, or monument to commemorate his life and works. He is certainly one of the most studied intellectuals in Latin America. This article provides guidance on how to locate the central and most informative sources to understand Bello’s variegated work.

General Overviews

Although collections of essays evaluating Bello’s contributions to a variety of fields of knowledge and to the public sphere began to appear shortly after his death in 1865 and have abounded ever since, they have tended to be celebratory rather than scholarly. However, in the second half of the twentieth century two major events took place that changed the emphasis to a more academic approach. One was the decades-long collection of Bello materials that led to the publication of his complete works in twenty-six volumes, beginning in the 1950s (see Primary Materials and Edited Collections). The discovery of hundreds of original documents and letters and the publication of the texts with erudite annotated comments by leading experts changed the landscape of Bello research, as is most clearly exemplified in Grases 1981. The second event was the bicentennial of Bello’s birthday in 1981. Building on the work done in preparation for the complete works, a committee of Bello experts convened the international scholarly community to present the results of their work at a series of major gatherings in Caracas. The papers presented on that occasion revolutionized Bello studies, moving from the celebratory to the scholarly, placing more emphasis on the larger historical forces leading to and developing from independence from Spain, as shown in Fundación la Casa de Bello 1979, Fundación la Casa de Bello 1980–1981, Fundación la Casa de Bello 1981, and Fundación la Casa de Bello 1982. Some of the work remained celebratory, but the tone and the standards of proof changed dramatically, as can be seen in Lynch 1982. The major challenge for the new work was how to achieve a proper balance between the specific and the general. This challenge was all the more significant given the variety of areas in which Bello worked. As a result, many of the contributions achieved higher levels of excellence but were very specific and sometimes removed from a connection to larger contexts. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, however, an effort has been made to apply a more interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach to Bello studies, as demonstrated in Dunkerley 2014, González Stephan and Poblete 2009; Ossandón Biljevic and Ruiz Schneider 2013, Pérez 2022, and Trujillo Silva 2019.

  • Dunkerley, James. “Andrés Bello and the Challenges of Spanish American Liberalism.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 24 (2014): 105–125.

    DOI: 10.1017/S008044011400005X

    This concise essay brings together elements of Bello’s biography to develop a central point: his development as a scholar, politician, and statesman. It argues that on the basis of his experience in three countries, Bello was able to make a major contribution to 19th-century state-building through the adaptation of liberal thought to the newly independent nations of Spanish America.

  • Fundación la Casa de Bello, ed. Bello y Caracas. Caracas: La Casa de Bello, 1979.

    A collection of twenty essays covering a wide spectrum of Bello’s life and activities in Caracas (1781–1810), prior to departure to London. The biographical information about Bello is placed in the larger context of social, economic, and political developments during the late colonial period. The appendix includes a previously unpublished document.

  • Fundación la Casa de Bello, ed. Bello y Londres. 2 vols. Caracas: La Casa de Bello, 1980–1981.

    Bello lived in London from 1810 to 1829, a period when, in addition to diplomatic activities, he conducted substantial research on medieval philology at the British Museum and published several of his major works, primarily poetry. He also contributed to several major Spanish-language journals, such as Biblioteca Americana and El Repertorio Americano. His role in these areas is analyzed in forty essays.

  • Fundación la Casa de Bello, ed. Bello y Chile. 2 vols. Caracas: La Casa de Bello, 1981.

    The fifty-six essays that compose this collection focus on the most productive period of Bello’s life, which coincides with his arrival in Chile (1829–1865). All his major interests and publications are discussed, including some of the activities for which he is less known, such as his work as legislator, theater critic, and journalist.

  • Fundación la Casa de Bello, ed. Bello y América Latina. Caracas: La Casa de Bello, 1982.

    While Bello addressed very specific national concerns in the postindependence period, the emphasis of the thirty-eight essays included in this volume is on those areas, ranging from education to law to the humanities, that transcended any country. A secondary purpose of this collection is to trace Bello’s impact beyond the Spanish American countries where he lived, Venezuela and Chile.

  • González Stephan, Beatriz, and Juan Poblete, eds. Andrés Bello y los estudios latinoamericanos. Serie Críticas. Pittsburgh, PA: Instituto Internacional de Literatura Iberoamericana, University of Pittsburgh, 2009.

    A collection of essays that provides multidisciplinary perspectives, including postmodern perspectives, to understand the work and the motivations of Bello in the context of various forms of modernity inaugurated by independence from Spain. These new perspectives illuminate new areas of scholarly concern, such as ethnicity and the meaning of citizenship in a new social and political environment.

  • Grases, Pedro. Estudios sobre Andrés Bello. 2 vols. Caracas: Editorial Seix Barral, 1981.

    A monumental collection of essays by the dean of Bello studies, Pedro Grases. The first volume concentrates on his research-based contributions to such areas as Bello’s work on medieval literature and on Venezuelan history. The second volume concentrates on shorter essays and reviews on Bello’s biography, international contacts, lesser-known writings, and various editions of his work.

  • Lynch, John, ed. Andrés Bello: The London Years. Richmond, UK: Richmond Publishing, 1982.

    A significant group of essays in English by a variety of British and Latin American scholars concentrating on the London years (1810–1829), when Bello acquired important knowledge on international relations and absorbed many of the leading intellectual currents, especially those associated with European liberalism.

  • Ossandón Biljevic, Carlos, and Carlos Ruiz Schneider, eds. Andrés Bello: Filosofía pública y política de la letra. Santiago: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2013.

    This collection of essays approaches the work of Andrés Bello from a variety of perspectives, paying particular attention to both his political philosophy and role in 19th-century Chile. The editors contribute chapters as well.

  • Pérez, Francisco Javier. Veneración de Bello: Estudios americanos y españoles. Bogotá: Academia Colombiana de la Lengua, 2022.

    The thirteen essays by the noted scholar Francisco Javier Pérez provide an indispensable guide to the major developments in Bello studies from the nineteenth century to the present. The volume provides significant new interpretations of Bello’s work as well as new materials from previously unknown sources.

  • Trujillo Silva, Joaquín. Andrés Bello: Libertad, impero, estilo. Santiago: Editorial Roneo, 2019.

    The author approaches the contributions of Andrés Bello by grouping his multiple interests in three major themes: liberty, empire, and style. It provides illuminating analyses of Bello’s lesser-known writings, ranging widely from literature to law.

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