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Revista Interamericana de Bibliografía (RIB)
Número: 1-4
Título: 1997
Sección: Reseñas Criticas / Critical Reviews

Victor BULMER-THOMAS, ed. Thirty Years of Latin American Studies in the United Kingdom 1965-1995. London: The Institute of Latin American Studies Press, 1996. 152 p., tables, footnotes.

Historically, the British have had a special relationship with Latin America. London played host and inspired Independence movement leaders like Francisco Miranda, Antonio Nariño and Bernardino Rivadavia among others. By the end of the 18th century Britain had firmly established itself as Latin America’s number one trading partner. Later, the British Navy was responsible for transporting the entire Portuguese court to Brazil following Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal. These few examples illustrate the close ties that have existed between the United Kingdom and Latin America, and therefore, it is a bit surprising to find that the British did not earnestly embark upon an organized effort to study the region until thirty years ago.

In 1962, the British government established the Parry Committee to study the state of teaching and research on Latin America in the United Kingdom. The Committee presented its report and recommendations to the government in 1965. As a result, funding was provided for the establishment of five university centers specializing in Latin American Studies: Cambridge, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Oxford. This publication is the result of a Symposium held in October 1995 celebrating the creation of the Parry Centres, and in particular, the establishment of the Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London.

The book covers most of the major disciplines related to Latin American Studies with varying levels of success. History and politics are handled by James Dunkerley; geography by John Dickenson; anthropology by Peter Wade; economics by E.V.K. Fitzgerald; environmental studies by Tim Allmark and Michael Redclift; and literature by John King. Sociology and archaeology are notable absentees among the disciplines covered. The length and breadth of each chapter is generally related to the quality of study in the corresponding field.

In particular, Dunkerley’s chapter on history and politics is the most detailed and complete. The strength of British academic studies of Latin America has traditionally been in the field of history. Such luminaries as Leslie Bethell, R.A. Humphries, Alan Knight and John Lynch have all been affiliated with the Parry Centres. Bethell has, arguably, the highest profile of any British Latin American Studies professor given his editorial work on the Cambridge History of Latin America.

Dunkerley meticulously catalogs the works of the major British historians and political scientists. He draws an interesting contrast between the pursuit of Latin American Studies in Britain and the United States. Dunkerley rightly states that the British, in most cases, were and are insulated from some of the more controversial events in Latin America. This allows a level of interpretation and analysis which is not tainted by emotion or political dogma. Similarly, Dunkerley notes that the North American school of political science has looked to construct models based on statistically-led social science research to explain how Latin America works, while the British are more interested in the interpretative aspects of analysis.

The chapter dedicated to economics is the biggest disappointment. The irony here is that Bulmer-Thomas is one of the most important economists working on Latin America today. Nevertheless, the chapter by Fitzgerald is extremely brief, given the quality and quantity of work produced in Britain in the economic field. Bulmer-Thomas himself is barely discussed, despite being the author of The Economic History of Latin America since Independence; the only recent English language economic history covering the whole of Latin America.

The publication candidly addresses the weaknesses of British scholarship on Latin America. In the introduction, Bulmer-Thomas argues that Latin American Studies needs to focus more on the larger countries of the region. This sentiment is later echoed by Dunkerley, who points out that historically there has been little attention paid to Brazil. However, one of the most compelling aspects of British scholarship is its attention to those areas that are generally ignored in the United States. Although it seems illogical to have more specialists working on Bolivia than Argentina or Brazil, the great wealth of Bolivian specialists in Great Britain is an underlying strength of the system.

There are real differences between how United States and British scholars deal with the region. By providing a book which acts as a bibliography of British academic study of Latin America, Bulmer-Thomas has provided a great service. Considering that the organized study of Latin America in Britain only began thirty years ago, one is struck by the sheer quality and breadth of the scholarship produced.

Organization of American States                                                                                                                      MICHAEL BEAULIEU
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