Latin American Studies Independence in Argentina
Daniel K. Lewis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0259


The topic of Argentina’s break from Spain and toward independence has concerned Argentine historians since the late 19th century, a period when authors published the country’s first research-based histories. For generations, scholars focused on the words and actions of individuals who emerged as leaders of the independence process. These histories centered on the ideals and events between 1810 and 1816 as significant and determinant, and they depicted Argentina’s break from Spanish authority as autonomous and self-directed. Beginning in the 1970s, Argentine scholars led a revisionist turn that first explored the context that shaped the political process and both motivated and limited the leaders and the factions that they represented. As was true with the study of other revolutions that took place in the Atlantic World during the late 18th and early 18th centuries, the focus for researchers expanded with shifts toward economic, social, and cultural influences. By the 1990s, the traditional narrative had fallen away in favor of a recognition that fundamental assumptions overlooked historical conditions. While events in North America and, for a time, France inspired discussion circles and correspondence among activists, rebellions within Spanish America and the revolution in Haiti, which underscored the potential cost of a break with authority, chilled any revolutionary push. In turn, the British attempts to capture Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807, which led porteños to form their own militia that defeated the invaders, focused local ambitions on a push for more autonomy within the Spanish Empire. When Napoleonic forces invaded Spain and captured King Ferdinand VII in 1808, the question of who ruled whom pushed the issue of independence forward. Royalist resistance, regional differences, and factional strife within the revolutionary movement complicated and slowed the move toward independence. Recent studies have again broadened the topic in useful directions. When the Cabildo Abierto in Buenos Aires convened to determine who and what form of government should rule in the place of the absent king, what exactly the council in the viceregal capital represented, who it spoke for, and what its relationship would be with Spain and the wider world was not clear. Recent work has added to our understanding of independence beyond Buenos Aires, comparing regions that resisted efforts to keep the colonial boundaries intact with those that remained linked to the capital, either willingly or by force. Social and cultural studies have helped us to better appreciate the role and the actions of the many whose lives and experiences marked the era.

General Histories

The first histories of independence presented a linear narrative that focused on the political ambitions of Manuel Belgrano and the military achievements of José de San Martín. The protagonists and events in Mitre 1967–1968 as well as Levene 1960 placed Argentines in a pantheon with their successful counterparts in North and South America. Halperín-Donghi 1975 pioneered a shift toward efforts to understand and account for material and social factors that shaped the independence process. The move toward explorations of broader contexts and conditions is well represented in Szuchman and Brown 1994, which tracks the legacy of the independence struggles and division through the consolidation of the Argentine Confederation. As Academia Nacional de la Historia 2000–2001 demonstrates, a generation of scholarship has moved the focus away from the engaged elite, their pronouncements, and actions toward a full range of material, social, and cultural issues and topics that stretch into the interior of what emerged as Argentina as well as the port of Buenos Aires.

  • Academia Nacional de la Historia. Nueva Historia de la Nación Argentina: La configuración de la República independiente, 1810–c. 1914. Vols. 4–6. Buenos Aires: Editorial Planeta Argentina, 2000–2001.

    An update of the academy’s first multivolume national history, the three volumes present chapters authored by Argentina’s leading historians that address a full range of political, social, economic, and cultural topics.

  • Botana, Natalio R. Repúblicas y monarquías: La encrucijada de la independencia. Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2016.

    Focused on the period 1810–1816, explores the difficult, divided political circumstances that left Argentina independent but incompletely consolidated.

  • Fradkin, Raúl O., and Jorge Daniel Gelman, eds. Doscientos años pensando la Revolución de Mayo. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 2010.

    Combines selections from documents and writings from the revolutionary era along with scholarly works that represent different generations of historical approaches. Includes short biographies and sketches of major historiographical positions and trends.

  • Halperín-Donghi, Tulio. Politics, Economics, and Society in Argentina in the Revolutionary Period. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

    A shift away from histories that focused on the lead actors, their asserted ideals, and their achievements toward the exploration of the historical context and broader social, material, and ideological factors that shaped the course of events.

  • Levene, Ricardo. Ensayo histórico sobre la Revolución de Mayo y Mariano Moreno: Contribución al estudio de los aspectos político, jurídico y económico de la Revolución de 1810. 3 vols. 4th ed. Buenos Aires: Editorial Peuser, 1960.

    A posthumous expanded and revised edition of one of the traditional studies, originally published in 1941, that narrates the revolution and its early success through the ideas and actions of Moreno, characterized as a leading protagonist and architect of the move toward independence.

  • Mitre, Bartolomé. Historia de Belgrano y de la independencia argentina. Buenos Aires: Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires, 1967–1968.

    The first significant work on the era. First published in 1857, its focus on Belgrano exemplifies the once dominant focus on “great men” as the main subject of historical investigations.

  • Ocampo, Emilio. La independencia argentina: De la fábula a la historia. Buenos Aires: Claridad, 2016.

    Starting in a place similar to early classic studies, it presents a nuanced position that connects the revolutionary leadership with the rise of authoritarian governments that replace the failed Unitario project. Challenges leftist and traditional polemics and incorporates generations of research into a clear narrative.

  • Rato de Sambuccetti, Susana. La Revolución de Mayo: Interpretaciones conflictivas. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Siglo Veinte, 1983.

    A sound, well-supported overview that provides a narrative, interpretations, and selections of primary source materials related to the origins, the economic shifts, and the state-building efforts of the revolutionaries.

  • Ruiz Rodríguez, Ignacio. Entre patriotas y libertadores: La otra guerra de la independencia; La invasión napoleónica y la emancipación del Virreinato del Río de la Plata, 1808–1814. Madrid: Dykinson, 2008.

    Instead of the recognized divisions between local factions that represent the typical focus of political histories, the author connects the revolution’s with a broader, empire-wide conflict characterized as a split between a faction that supported reforms introduced across the Atlantic by the French occupation of Spain versus another that resisted any significant break from structures and practices put into place by the Bourbon authorities with the establishment of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.

  • Szuchman, Mark D., and Jonathan C. Brown, eds. Revolution and Restoration: The Rearrangement of Power in Argentina, 1776–1860. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

    Presents contributions from a range of Argentine and North American scholars that address political, social, military, and economic topics that, taken together, explore the roots, the course, and the aftermath of the independence struggle.

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