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‘Padres de la Patria’ and the Ancestral Past: Commemorations of Independence in Nineteenth-Century Spanish America

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 December 2002

Rebecca Earle is a Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Warwick.


This article examines the civic festivals held in nineteenth-century Spanish America to commemorate independence from Spain. Through such festivals political leaders hoped, in Hobsbawm's words, ‘to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past’. But when did the ‘past’ begin? If in nineteenth-century France the French Revolution was the time of history, in Spanish America there was no consensus on when history began. The debates about national origins embedded within the nineteenth-century civic festival not only suggest how political elites viewed their Patrias but also shed light on the position of indigenous culture (usually separated hygienically from indigenous peoples themselves) within the developing national histories of post-independence Spanish America.

Research Article
© 2002 Cambridge University Press

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Many thanks to Guy Thomson and Tony McFarlane for their help and advice, to Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez for drawing my attention to the richness of Guatemalan independence day speeches, to Alvaro Fernandez Bravo for allowing me to cite from his current research, and to the staff of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Room at the Nettie Lee Benson Library of the University of Texas at Austin. I would also like to thank the Leverhulme Trust and the Arts and Humanities Research Board for their financial support.