History and Latin America

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From Sovereign Villages to National States: City, State, and Federation in Central America, 1759-1839

Jordana Dym

The role of the city--as an institution, as a political ideal, as a training ground for politicians--has been neglected in historical studies of Spanish American independence. Connecting the political changes of the Bourbon Reforms (1759-1788) and constitutional monarchy (1808-1821) to those of the independence era (1821-1839), Jordana Dym's analysis of Central America's early nineteenth-century politics shows nation-state formation to be a city-driven process that transformed colonial provinces (weak administrative districts with ambiguous political identities and divided interiors) into enduring states with basic governments and articulated national identities.

Dym argues that in Central America, an important aspect of the nineteenth-century political revolution was a shift from European political ideology based on municipal sovereignty (that of the pueblos) to a politics of national sovereignty (that of the pueblo). The tensions in the move from municipal to national sovereignty, she finds, contributed to multiple civil wars and to the difficulty of bringing breakaway regions to respect colonial districts and capitals. This book challenges the received wisdom that states emerged, already formed, from the process of independence.

Based on extensive research in national and local archives in Central America, the United States, and Europe, this political history examines a complex process that takes into account cooperation as well as conflict between elites and popular groups. It holds that the contradictory, multifaceted republican processes of independence and subsequent efforts at state formation owed much to and must be analyzed within the context of the specific types of political change introduced in the late colonial period, a question of interest to scholars and students of Central America, Mexico, and South America.


Jordana Dym is associate professor of Latin American history at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York. She is also co-editor of Politics, Economy, and Society in Bourbon Central America, 1759-1821.


". . . a bold and thoughtful reinterpretation of the role of the political city in the independence of Central America from the late colonial period to the early national. Based on rigorous primary research in Spain and Central America and a broad reading of the secondary literature, the book will be widely read and discussed."


Jay Kinsbruner, Professor Emeritus of History at Queens College, City University of New York

"Jordana Dym has written a welcome and important book that not only will contribute to the growing field of Atlantic World history in the age of the great revolutions, but also will raise scholarly interest in Central American history in general."



"Dym's excellent work makes a valuable contribution to the literature on Latin American nation building."


Choice Magazine

"In this provocative, carefully argued, and meticulously researched work, Jordana Dym makes an original contribution to...Central American political life from the beginning of the colonial period, through independence, and into the nineteenth century."


American Historical Review

"Dym's work rattles the static notion that somehow the current nations of the isthmus morphed into being out of the arbitrary administrative intendancies set up during the Bourbon era. ... the author provides a fresh perspective to the fratricidal wars that consumed large swaths of populations and created bitter enemies among neighbors."


Hispanic American Historical Review

6 x 9 in. 424 pages 15 halftones, 8 maps, 12 tables