Social Sketches (“artículos de costumbres“) as Representations of Ethnographic Knowledge in Spanish America during the Time of Nation building (1830-1898)

Due to the social changes occasioned by the French Revolution and the Enlightenment, in the first decades of the 19 th century people began to focus on themselves as human beings and on their immediate living environment. Based on the French “esquisses des moeurs“ and the English “sketches of manners“, social sketches became wide-spread in many European countries. These short sociological and anthropological treatises were published in newspapers and magazines whose circulation and influence largely increased during this period due to technological innovations in press and marketing, as well as the liberalisation of censorship. This genre gained considerable significance in Spain with the so-called “artículos de costumbres“, mainly thanks to the efforts of the Madrilenian writers and journalists Mariano José de Larra and Ramón de Mesonero Romanos.

 

Although most of the Spanish colonies in South and Central America and the Caribbean in this period had already gained independence, these “artículos de costumbres“ became very popular beyond the Atlantic Ocean because of the strong cultural connection with Spain. As a result, an immense body of work was created which provides valuable insights into the social, political and technological changes in the countries of Spanish America during the time of nation building (1830-1898). This project analyses these texts as historical sources and is mainly concerned with the following questions: which differences between urban and rural life are highlighted? How are different social types represented? In which ways did the “artículos de costumbres“ contribute to the nation building and self-image of these countries? To what extent were the authors of these texts involved in local networks of knowledge? These aspects will be considered from a transnational perspective in three case studies: Mexico (Central America), Argentina (South America) and Cuba (the Caribbean).

 

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