History Department
History Department

Lina Del Castillo’s “Crafting a Republic for the World” offers radical new interpretation of 19th century Latin America political culture

Wed, June 6, 2018
Lina Del Castillo’s “Crafting a Republic for the World” offers radical new interpretation of 19th century Latin America political culture
Professor Lina Del Castillo

Dr. Lina Del Castillo’s recently-published Crafting a Republic for the World: Scientific, Geographic, and Historiographic Inventions of Colombia for the World (University of Nebraska Press, June 2018) is a tour de force. It turns the historiography of 19th-century liberalism and conservatism upside down. Like James Sanders’, this is a book about the making of a Republican Vanguard: Nueva Granada, as a nation for the world. It was to be a nation poised between the aristocratic, monarchical regimes of Europe and the democratic yet structurally racist world of antebellum USA. Unlike the United States, which claimed itself vanguard, Nueva Granada was constitutionally made of blacks, Indians, and Spaniards, all actual or potential citizens with full rights. To succeed, however, Nueva Granada needed to excise from within its “Iberian” past. To be modern, a vanguard elite needed to identify and eliminate the “colonial legacy” within. It was in the 1840s when the elites of the seven regions of Nueva Granada, organized around the government of Tomas Cipirano Mosquera, finally came to a consensus on the meaning of that legacy. Everyone agreed that, to work, Nueva Granada needed to break its many barriers to circulation. Fragmentation of measuring systems, currencies, technologies, political economies, grammars, histories lay at the core of inter-regional conflict. Bogota emerged as the hub for the homogenization and circulation of resources, educational institutions, expertise, grammars, laws, and political communication. Professor Del Castillo identifies this project as “federalist” in nature and bipartisan in political consensus. It became the blueprint for the rest of the century, from Cipriano Mosquera to Rafael Nuñez.

Dr. Del Castillo focuses on the emergence of several sciences of the republican-bipartisan vanguard to address the problem of the “colonial legacy”. First, she deals with the science of Political Economy. It was this science that led to the early recognition of a consensual path to modernity. Then, she turns to the making of Nuevo Granadino Agrimensure as the utopian calculus of equality. This was a science designed to turn the colonial "Indian" into the indigenous citizen. As a radical agrarian reform to give title to lands to individuals, no to deeply hierarchical communities, this redistribution of lands never worked. It was buried in the minutia of a calculus unable to define the value for lands in different microclimate or to clearly pinpoint who actually was an “Indian.” Systems of agrarian indigenous tenancy had long incorporated mestizos, priests, and whites as renters and it became impossible to define the colonial “Indian”. This failed experiment of the science of agrarian equality, however, strengthened the state. The multiplicity of courts and the fragmentation and decentralization of legal authority favored drawn-out litigation and counter appeals. In a world of constant civil wars and radical agrarian reform, Nueva Granada, unlike Mexico, did not witness armed violence over disputed indigenous land ownership. The nineteenth-century aspiring modern republic built the state on the back of the legal pluralisms of the colonial legacy it so much despised.

The third science Prof. Del Castillo explores is that of Political Ethnography. It was a science of the minute, as revealing of larger cultural worlds of the self. What historians have called “costumbrismo”, Del Castillo identifies as the science of working out the “colonial” through the analysis of the quotidian. Political ethnography was the discourse articulated though reports printed in an immense network of private newspapers that appeared in almost every middle-class household, particularly in Bogota, but not exclusively. It was a world of publications that has been barely understood. Political Ethnography sought to change the individual from within, through vicarious, collective reading of self-recognition (by ridiculing and shaming).

There was no consensus, however, as to how the colonial legacy manifested itself in the mundane. It is here that sharp reifying lines began to be drawn and Liberal and Conservative forms of self-identification emerged. More important, it was in the early 1850s that sweeping political mobilizations led not only to the abolition of slavery and universal manhood suffrage but also to a quandary over the long-term impact of the colonial legacy on the unprepared citizens. For both liberals and conservative alike, popular participation seemed to unleash the cultural forces of the “colonial legacy.” A mobilized superstitious, uneducated population could drag the vanguard republic down. It is in this debate where Dr. Del Castillo finds the origins of the radical territorial reorganization that Nueva Granada witnessed in the late 1850s and early 1860s, namely, the emergence of a federal republic of sovereign states.

Dr. Del Castillo explores the rise of the science of Constitutionalism that radically altered liberal and conservative discourses of sovereignty. Since mid-1850, it became clear to most elites that sovereignty lay in the state, not the individual. To curtail the unpleasant outcome of universal manhood suffrage, the new constitutionalists claimed the right of states to limit the franchise, to engage in electoral fraud, and to even dismiss electoral result. And so it happened that each state created the constitution each pleased. Paradoxically the territorially of the state changed, but the project of vanguard modernity did not.

In the last chapter, Dr. Del Castillo demonstrates that the switch from universal suffrage to state sovereignty, as a means to manage the “colonial legacy”, slowly became a form of Reformation-Counter Reformation debate. Liberals, for the first time, began to consider that it was the Catholic Church the real master behind the unwise, unmodern decisions of most mobilized men (and women). The debate over the “colonial legacy” was reduced to a fight over the “church.” The church blocked circulation by the monopolization of agrarian and urban property and credit. The church produced benighted individuals who could not become autonomous and entrepreneurial enough to be good, modern citizens. The church controlled the most powerful system of manufacturing opinion, namely, public education. Liberals found in the church the culprit and sought to take the latter’s lands and educational systems away. Instead of transforming the individual through political ethnography and self-recognition in vicarious reading, Liberals changed drastically their understanding of the public sphere. Secular public education controlled by entrepreneurial Protestant female teachers became the ideal vehicle for shaping individual and collective behavior. Conservatives did not lie idly.

Prof. Del Castillo reframes our understanding of leading conservatives as radical republicans who to counter Liberal aspersions of the church claimed for the church a leading role in the making of modernity. These conservatives argued that the church was not a drag on Nueva Granada. Ecclesiological histories of Colombia found in the church the original impulse to science, modernization, entrepreneurship, and national community in the colonial period, wars of independence, and throughout the young history of the Republic. Former radical liberal republicans came to embrace the conservative agenda. Liberals were no longer willing to equate the "colonial legacy" with some kind of racial curse in the Spanish blood. Hispanism became a force to reject the rising hegemony of a Euro-Anglo centric science of race. Hispanism also became a tool to stall USA imperialism and interventionism.

Crafting a Republic for the World has already garnered high praise from leading experts in the field:

  • “This is the rare scholarly work that will make valuable contributions to not just one but three historical fields: the political history of republicanism, the cultural history of nineteenth-century mentalités, and the global history of science.”—James E. Sanders, professor of history at Utah State University
  • “Lina Del Castillo’s work deepens our understanding of nineteenth-century Latin America as part of the vanguard of democracy.”—Rebecca Earle, professor of history at the University of Warwick
  • “Deeply researched and innovative, Crafting a Republic for the World shows how nineteenth-century Colombians invented the notion of colonial legacies and how this notion was essential to the creation of a new science of republicanism. An inspiring account of how ideas about the past shape politics and policy!”—Marixa Lasso, associate professor of history at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia
  • “According to Del Castillo’s sharp and provocative analysis, Colombia’s oft-cited ‘colonial legacy’ was actually a nineteenth-century construct, one that has far outlived its early republican creators as an explanatory framework for all that is wrong with modern Latin America. Crafting a Republic for the World will spark scholarly debate by forcing us to rethink this legacy.”—Nancy Appelbaum, professor of history at Binghamton University, SUNY

Learn more about the book, and read the introduction, "Postcolonial Inventions of Spanish American Colonial Legacies."

Dr. Del Castillo is an Assistant Professor of History and Latin American Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, where she is an active member of the #1-ranked Latin American History program. She received her B.A. in History and Latin American Studies from Cornell University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Miami. Her dissertation won the University of Miami's Barrett Prize for the best Ph.D. dissertation on a Latin American topic in 2008. Her research focuses on the intersections between 19th-century republicanism, scientific thinking, the public sphere, and visual culture. Read more about her work on her History Faculty profile page.

Prof. Del Castillo will present a book talk and discussion on Crafting a Republic for the World at the Institute for Historical Studies on Tuesday, October 9, 2018, from 3:30-4:30, in Garrison Hall (GAR) 4.100 - see the IHS event calendar for forthcoming details. The event is sponsored by IHS, the History Department, and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.

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