Featured Review: An Overview of Historical and Socio-economic Evolution in the Americas

Colombo’s arrival in Hispaniola. Credit: L. Prang & Co., Boston.

An Overview of Historical and Socio-economic Evolution in the Americas is well titled because it prunes down a mountain of history to give students a solid understanding of which influences have affected meaningful change, both positive and negative, from pre-invasion to contemporary times.

This is achieved not by glossing over complex issues, but explaining the events that caused the creation of new cultures, all amalgamations of diversity ranging from reverence of nature, to earth-plundering capitalism.

The book shades toward a progressive/revisionist view of history, eschewing neo-conservative perspectives that skew the past to make the USA seem correct in its actions, no matter how draconian those actions may have been. But the book strides through a middle path, as it is not purely revisionist, akin to Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky.

By giving readers the impact, both positive and negative, of capitalist actions, a fair view of the repercussions of the majority of inhabitants of South and North America (but the majority living south of the USA) comes through. Canada has been spared the crippling military and bank actions that have worsened in the 20th century as the USA tried to gain and retain control over Central and South America.

American students will benefit quite a bit from this point of view. The writers and Editor of the volume offer a more truthful book that ties in philosophical, economic and cultural influences in a straightforward way, though the concepts may be complicated for high school students, they are not so rigorous as to lose their target audience.

This book could easily take up an entire high school year, or semester in college.  Though there are no study questions, teachers and professors should have no problem developing questions, and multiple projects based on the chapters.

Especially American students will profit from the book’s point of view, as that view has not made it to the mainstream of public education curricula where board members of public school systems rarely favor the truth over patriotism.  The generations-old idea that “the USA can do no wrong,” is challenged here not openly, but in a clever series of statistics and carefully chosen histories that provide answers to the question “how did we get to this point?”

A long list of basic facts at the beginning of each country’s chapter helps build the middle road perspective. The authors also use common sense that leads readers to the truth, or as close as one can get, in one volume that covers 26 countries and the native populations of the Americas from ancient times, but especially 1492 until 2010.

The best aspect is how the struggles between oppressors, slaves, and native populations have worked to form countries out of vastly different cultures.  This book forms the basis of a history class that is also concerned with sociology, anthropology and comparative social sciences.

Different researchers emphasize different aspects depending on the important happenings during certain periods. Chapter 4 is a deep look into the ancient cultures of Mexico, without a lot of information about wars, and politics, but with the importance of cultural gains in language, philosophy, art and even fashion. Chapter 3, by comparison, is about the US, where the study of war, slavery and inequality are aptly covered with a rightful emphasis on economic upheavals and less appointed to cultural advances.

It’s important to know that $25 billion per year is sent back to Mexico from workers in the United States. The recent upheavals in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador pale in comparison to what might happen if the money stopped flowing down to Mexico from workers who are more than willing to share in the gains they have made in the US. These types of facts are vital for students in the USA to know.

Chapter 17, about Puerto Rico, is an excellent example of how a short history can clarify so much. The struggle of an island nation to free itself from Spain (hundreds of years) only to find itself in geo-political limbo with the United States is presented with an escape hatch: technology used to create a better economy. Luis Muñoz Marín, a formidable statesman of Puerto Rico declared “Economic development is not an end in itself, but the basis for a good civilization. Political status is not an end in itself but a means to economic realization…” In a state/protectorate/country that has fought for some unique identity, and for a while, even attempted to become part of a bigger whole (USA statehood or not?) more smart thinkers like Marín are needed to lift people out of poverty.

The problems of civil wars, and extremist politics are in full bloom in the portrayal of Central and South America where the US belief in the outdated Monroe Doctrine has found bankers and marines alike sent in to either create conflict, resolve conflict, or instill a system that favors the owners of the means of production over their local employees, who often subsist on slave wages. This book quietly but fervently yearns for the day when brotherhood will prevail over greed and oppression.

By editing a strong collection of stories, and writing many himself, Alberto Ciferri offers young scholars a chance to take a fresh look at old problems, and those still simmering today.”

Our heartfelt thanks go to Doug Stuber for allowing us to reproduce his review. Doug is a visiting professor of English at Chonnam National University in Gwangju, South Korea.  He has published 12 volumes of poetry, including the recent collection Chronic Observer. He also comments widely on geo-politcal issues.

You can purchase or read an extract of An Overview of Historical and Socio-economic Evolution in the Americas on our website, by following this link.

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