Latin American Studies Slavery in Argentina
Erika Edwards
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0157


In 1587 the first slaves arrived in Buenos Aries from Brazil. From 1580 to 1640, the main commercial activity for Buenos Aires was the slave trade. More than 70 percent of the value of all imports arriving in Buenos Aires were enslaved Africans. Slaves came primarily from Brazil via the Portuguese slave trade from Angola and other western states in Africa. Once arriving in Buenos Aires, they could be sent as far as Lima, Peru; slaves were provided to Mendoza, Tucuman, and Salta Jujuy as well as to Chile, Paraguay, and what is today Bolivia and southern Peru. Córdoba functioned primarily as a redistribution center for this slave transfer until 1610. In 1610 the Society of Jesus founded the Coliseum Maximum for students of the order in Córdoba. This would become the precursor to the University of Córdoba. By the mid-17th century, the Jesuits, along with other religious orders, had brought forth a prominent slave population that labored on their ranches, university, and churches. By the end of the 18th century, the Río de la Plata had become a strong economic power because of the location of Buenos Aires’s port and changes in trade routes because of the Bourbon Reforms. The slave trade had increased significantly by the end of the 18th century, reflecting the economic status of Buenos Aires in the Atlantic economy. In 1810 Buenos Aires called for independence and began the wars of independence that would eventually spread across all Latin America. The participation of slaves was crucial to victory. Because of their efforts on the battlefield, gradual abolition was introduced in 1813 with the Free Womb Act, which “freed” all babies born to slave mothers. The first Constitution of Argentina abolished slavery in 1853. This, however, did not apply to Buenos Aires, as it was not a part of the Confederation. Once Buenos Aires joined the Confederation in 1861, slavery was completely abolished in Argentina. Prior to the social history of the 1960s, few if any works focused on the black experience in Argentina. Starting in the 1970s, because of quantitative methods, historians began to grapple with the question of “What happened to the black population?” Since this period, the historiography has expanded to include the cultural and legal experiences involving Afro descendants in Argentina. Since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been an explosion in the production of works concerning slavery and the black experience in Argentina. Led primarily by Argentine scholars, this historiography continues to be focused on the colonial period with the focus on demography, the wars of independence, and the period of blanqueamiento, or the disappearance of the black population.

General History

The general history of slavery in Argentina is dominated by the black experience in Buenos Aires during the 18th and 19th centuries. Andrews has written two books that detail their experiences. The first, Andrews 1980, is the first social history of slavery written in English. He later followed up with a general comparative history of blacks throughout Latin America (Andrews 2004). This book is highly recommended for undergraduates. Andrews has since expanded this book to include the 17th and 18th centuries in his most recent publication Andrews 2016. Within the province of Buenos Aires, Mayo 2004 provides an economic history about labor conditions at the end of the 18th century. Pineau 2011 is an anthology that captures the black experience from the slave trade to today. Outside of Buenos Aires, three works, Becerra 2008, Borucki 2015, and Pistone 1996, explore the black experiences in the provinces of Córdoba, Banda Oriental (modern-day Uruguay) and Santa Fe, respectively. Becerra 2008 provides a historiography of texts produced since the 1960s about Córdoba. Borucki 2015 delves into the social networks created among African descendants from the late colonial to early republican periods. Pistone 1996 provides a general history about slavery in the province of Santa Fe. Most recently, Siegrist and Rosal 2012 and Guzman, et al. 2016 are anthologies that fill a crucial gap in the historiography as they trace the black experience in Argentina and the Rio de la Plata from the 18th through the 21st centuries. In particular Guzman, et al. 2016 goes beyond Buenos Aires and discusses other cities, such as La Rioja, Córdoba, and Santa Fe.

  • Andrews, George Reid. The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800–1900. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980.

    This book is a social, cultural, and military history of the black experience in Buenos Aires during the 19th century. The book tests the myths of black disappearance in Buenos Aires, Argentina. These myths include disease, genocide, and wars. Andrews argues that though they are partly true, the real reason stems from an ideological erasure known as the whitening period and a statistical transfer in the censuses.

  • Andrews, George Reid. Afro-Latin America, 1800–2000. New York: Oxford, 2004.

    This is a general book on the black experiences from the beginning of the republics to today. It is divided into periods, including the wars of independence, the modernization/whitening process, the mestizaje period, and today’s black movements. It compares the black experience throughout Latin America.

  • Andrews, George Reid. Afro-Latin America: Black Lives, 1600–2000. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674545847

    This is a general history of the black experience from the 17th century to 2000. It expands on his 2004 book. This book provides additional information on the colonial period.

  • Becerra, María José. “Estudios sobre esclavitud en Córdoba: Análisis y perspectivas.” In Los estudios Afroamericanos y Africanos en América Latina: Herencia, presencia y visiones del otro. Edited by Gladys Lechini, 145–163. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales, 2008.

    Becerra provides a historiographical overview of slavery in Córdoba, focusing primarily on Argentine scholars from the 1960s to today. The scholars are framed within various methodologies and schools of thought.

  • Borucki, Alex. From Shipmates to Soldiers: Emerging Black Identities in the Río de la Plata. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015.

    Borucki focuses on the creation of various social networks—slave ship experiences, religious brotherhoods, soldiers—among African descendants. He sheds light on their experiences in Montevideo, an important slave port in the 18th century and part of the Rio de la Plata until the independence of Uruguay in 1825.

  • de la Cerda Donoso de Moreschi, Jeanette C., and Luis J. Villarroel. Los negros esclavos de Alta Gracia: Caso testigo de población de origen africano en la Argentina y América. Córdoba, Argentina: Ediciones del Copista, Biblioteca de la Historia, 1999.

    The city of Alta Gracia, Argentina, is a small town in which extensive African slavery existed. The authors note that the stories of the slaves in this town have almost been erased from history; thus, they attempt to rescue the memory of this group of human beings that carried the stigma of being black and being slaves.

  • Guzman, Florencia, Lea Geler, and Alejandro Frigerio. Cartografías afro latinoamericanos: Perspectivas situadas desde Argentina. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Biblos, 2016.

    Guzman, Geler and Friegerio’s anthology provides a diverse array of essays that examine the black experience in various regions of Argentina from the colonial period through the 20th century; themes include racial labeling, urban slavery, black artisans, abolition, entertainment, and memory.

  • Mayo, Carlos. “Gauchos negros: Los esclavos de la estancia colonial.” In Estancia y sociedad en la pampa, 1740–1820. By Carlos Mayo, 135–150. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Biblos, 2004.

    Mayo investigates the economic progression of Argentina’s rural areas in the late colonial era. He acknowledges these rural areas as slave-occupied territories with progressive transformation to agricultural commercialization and economic prosperity. Mayo also addresses how the rural areas were culturally and socially modified.

  • Pineau, Marisa. La ruta del esclavo en el Río de la Plata: Aportes para el diálogo intercultural. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial de la Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero, 2011.

    This book is a compilation of several chapters stemming from an international seminar organized by the Catedra Unesco de Turismo Cultural, held in Buenos Aires in 2009. The purpose of this book is to promote cultural and artistic dialogue between Latin America and African countries.

  • Pistone, J. Catalina. La esclavatura negra en Santa Fe. Santa Fe, Argentina: Junta Provincial de Estudios Históricos de Santa Fe, 1996.

    Pistone examines the origin and presence of black slavery in the city of Santa Fe, particularly in relation to religion. Pistone thoroughly examines primary municipal and clerical documents to show the development of slave culture in the region and how blacks were incorporated into society through mestizaje, or military service.

  • Rosal, Miguel. Africanos y afrodescendientes en el Río de la Plata: Siglos XVIII–XIX. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Dunken, 2009.

    Rosal examines black property owners, including both freed people and slaves. He provides a general history of the black experience in Buenos Aires during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This book’s appendix provides a listing of all blacks, pardos, and mulattos who left wills and their location in the Archivo General Nación.

  • Siegrist, Nora, and Miguel Rosal, eds. Cuestiones interétnicas: Fuentes, y aportes sobre el componente afromestizo en Hispanoamérica, siglos XVII–XIX. Saarbrucken, Germany: Editorial Académica Española, 2012.

    This anthology focuses on various new methodologies surrounding the black experience primarily in Buenos Aires. It focuses on criminal proceedings, racial identity, and social relationships.

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