Appalachia and the Andes: Dialogue North-South in the Americas
Is it possible to compare the rural world of the United States and peasant communities in Latin America? Although Rural History is not part of current historiographical trends, I consider that this field is crucial to understand the experience of a vast majority of people. Both in North and Latin America, second class citizens struggle with urbanization, social dislocations and the challenges of modernity. Within that conceptual framework, “Appalachia and the Andes: Dialogue North-South” proposes a comparative view that starts with a set of historical readings organized around specific questions. In “The New Rural History: Defining the Parameters” Robert Swirenga addresses 4 aspects of rural history that I am planning to discuss in my course: 1) social behavior in a variety of a rural historical settings (in this case the Andes and Appalachia); 2) emphasis on historical experience (life and activity of farmers and villagers in both regions); 3) uniqueness of the rural experience (values, large family networks, isolation, work patterns, seasonal labor, sense of pride and honor, etc.; and 4) peasant mentality and folklore.
In “Andes and Appalachia” I will bring together some concepts from my other courses: “Peasants and Revolution in Latin America”, “US-Latin American relations” and “Writing the Nation.” This new course departs from my understanding of rural life, nation-state building process, the forge of specific identities among peasants but also of the traditional vision Latin Americans have about the US. My course is an attempt to call into question the progressive and democratic view we have of the US—exploring, in contrast, the shades of gray related to underdevelopment, isolation and resistance to change in some communities that, just as Appalachia, reproduces Latin American economic and social experiences.
In order to accomplish my objectives I am relying on theory of modernization (prescribed in the 1970’s to Latin America by American scholars) but also in a strong narrative that introduces the real and imagined problems of rural life. Thus part of my approach will be through the lens of two writers: Clorinda Matto de Turner (1852-1909) and Mary Noailles Murfree, (1850-1922). Members of the same generation and social class, both women analyzed the importance of rural communities in Cusco and Tennessee.
Seeing the Andes and Appalachia in a comparative perspective and through the eyes of Noailles Murfree and Matto de Turner will help me to achieve several objectives: 1) Placing Appalachia and the Andes in World History in spite of their peculiarities and differences. 2) The global perspective of two cultural experiences (the encounter with the other) will be enriched by an analysis in which gender, class, and race intersect in a creative way 3) While my methodology mostly relies on some basic concepts from Rural History and the theory of modernization I will combine them with literary critic and cultural studies. That will allow me to capture the sense of place (Cusco and Beersheba Springs) both Matto and Noailles reconstruct and express in universal terms. Concepts such as justice, diversity, inclusiveness, violence and democracy will be part of our discussion inspired by an American and a Peruvian woman, writing in the XIXth century, as will theories associated with Rural History and the transition to modernity, produced in the US in the XXth century.