Uruguay, Gateway to Nineteenth-Century Cultural History of the Río de la Plata



Argentina occupies a prominent place in Latin American historiography. Latin Americanists as well as historians of other world regions are less familiar, though, with the intensity of cultural, political, and economic flows that defined the broader region of the Río de la Plata, comprising today’s Uruguay and Argentina specifically, as well as Paraguay and southern Brazil more generally. Such exchanges of goods, ideas, and people were especially true of the late colonial period and the nineteenth century. Yet in this equation studies of Uruguay have remained on the margins in historical scholarship. This essay focuses on three core areas of research in the recent historiography of Uruguay as a gateway to nineteenth-century cultural history of the Río de la Plata region. These areas are: (1) the African diaspora and blackness; (2) political culture and cultural history; and (3) a revitalized political history that draws from intellectual history and new energy surrounding the bicentennials of independence throughout Latin America. Knowledge of the historical forces shaping nineteenth-century Uruguay not only contributes to a more complete understanding of the region’s cultural history; it also allows for the development of a historical perspective that is much more in tune with the historical experience of the region’s inhabitants throughout the long nineteenth century. Moreover, students and scholars of Argentina will note some parallels in research problems, though seeing them through the Uruguay prism can yield alternative approaches and point to previously unknown or under-utilized source bases.