by Matt Raab
SFS history professor John Tutino recently published New Countries: Capitalism, Revolutions, and Nations in the Americas, 1750–1870, a volume focusing on independence and associated political economic development in the Americas. Tutino, also the author of Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío and Spanish North America, harnessed a network of historians and the resources of the Georgetown College Americas Initiative to produce the sweeping book, in which 10 essays address country-specific examples and connects them to broader regional and global trends.
On February 7, 2017 the Mortara Center for International Studies hosted an event highlighting the book, which included remarks from several contributors. Georgetown professors Tutino, Erik Langer, and Adam Rothman, along with Professor David Sartorius of the University of Maryland, spoke on their individual contributions to the work and its overall themes.
“The challenge of New Countries went something like this,” Tutino said in his opening remarks. “It started with a problem in my mind. I had finished around 2010 an oversized book with the title of ‘Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío of Spanish North America.’ It really muddied up what I thought I knew when I started it about the origins of global capitalism. It convinced me that global capitalism and its early commercial variants had beginnings as important in the New World as it did in the Old World.”
Inspired by findings in this previous work, Tutino had more questions he hoped to answer.
This interest would eventually become an effort to recruit colleagues to expand the perspective and depth of research considered.
“What I did is recruited colleagues–and the definition of a colleague to be recruited was an important scholar who had already worked on the region in question in important ways,” Tutino said. “I challenged them to bring synthetic studies of the origins of the new nations in their region of the new world … and to try to reintegrate a political vision with a vision of the global and hemispheric economic changes that are going on.”
Professor Adam Rothman commented on how these processes of change interact in the context of the United States, a country whose history–particularly early history–is often set apart from that of the rest of the hemisphere.
“At least for the late 18th and 19th centuries U.S. history is not deeply in conversation with the history of the rest of the Americas,” Rothman noted early in his remarks. “Things pick up in the 20th century but for the earlier period I work on they’re sort of different worlds.”
Rothman categorized three different types of “divergences” that defined the post-colonial experience of the United States and other countries in the region. This includes independence, the development of different political and economic systems, and internal divergences, like those seen in the United States that led to the Civil War.
“We should not necessarily see the United States as this success story of the Americas which it is often represented as,” he said. “We often think of the United States, at least by the late 19th century, as the great triumph of industrialization and national independence but it did so at a tremendous cost in lives and treasure, and from that perspective it seems to me that the United States is more similar to other countries in the Americas than we have often been conscious of.”
For Rothman, the volume provided is insightful hemispheric perspective.
“One of the things that these essays do is allow us to think more deeply and more broadly about the differences and commonalities that emerge across the Americas in this age of revolution,” Rothman said.
Professor David Sartorius reaffirmed the worth of the connections highlighted by New Countries in the context of Cuba, his area of expertise. He valued “the opportunity to make the case that Cuba has a role, as a participant and not an outlier or an exception to the hemispheric patterns.” His chapter highlighted political and economic dynamics that incorporated Cuba into discussions of its neighbors, rather than treating it as an isolated outlier.
Professor Erik Langer spoke last, offering his thoughts on the experience of indigenous people after independence in the countries of the Americas.
“What I have tried to do is…talk about the indigenous people and how they in fact got a kind of independence themselves in ways that had not been possible during the colonial period and would not be possible after the 1870s again,” Langer said. “And thus I really in many ways take to issue this whole paradigm of new countries, new nations whether that actually works.”
Langer’s addressal of indigenous issues is the final essay of the volume, wrapping up a journey that takes the reader across the Americas, where the variety of authors challenge each other’s findings, ultimately providing a varied picture of the dynamics at play in the postcolonial Western Hemisphere.
“What we hope the outcome of this volume is is a new understanding of the rise of industrial capitalism linked to the importance of key social movements from below and integrated with the complex process that created nations across the Americas,” Tutino said.
New Countries: Capitalism, Revolutions, and Nations in the Americas, 1750–1870 is available to purchase here.