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AHRC Grant: Latin America and the peripheral origins of nineteenth-century international order

Some very welcome news after a long, long year…

Alongside my colleague Carsten-Andreas Schulz, we have been awarded a grant from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council for the project Latin America and the peripheral origins of nineteenth-century international order. The four-year project is funded at £249,996. (I don’t see any of that, of course, but it will allows us to dedicate much of our time to the research project and also support travel, research assistants, conferences, and more.) Carsten is an assistant professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica in Chile; he’s a wonderful scholar and friend. He previously visited Warwick on a fellowship and from the Institute for Advanced Study, after he was instrumental in helping facilitate my time as a Fulbright Visiting Professor in Santiago. In addition to the grant, we’re already working on a couple articles together.

Drawing on multinational archival work, our project will examine Latin America’s role in the development of international order during the nineteenth century. This era has drawn scrutiny in historical International Relations for the illiberal and imperial practices that accompanied the emergence of a ‘liberal’ international order. Latin America often occupied a distinct place as a group of sovereign states that was accorded lesser status by European powers. However, Latin America’s own vibrant republican institutions spurred vital contributions to international practices, norms, and institutions. Latin America’s engagement shaped international order in lasting ways that should shape our understandings of the ‘crisis’ if international order today. Long and Schulz will examine the roots of these contributions—and the ways international order influenced domestic hierarchies—in research in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and the United States.

The project has several inspirations, but in part it seeks to develop an international counterpart to the work on republicanism and liberalism in Latin America’s nineteenth century by historians including Hilda Sabato, James Sanders, Eduardo Posada-Carbó and Iván Jaksic, Guy Thomson, Erika Pani, Marixa Lasso, Peter Guardino, Cristina Rojas, Muriel Laurent, Michel Gobat, Nichola Miller, and more. We are lucky to count Posada-Carbó, Sabato, Pani, Laurent, Thomson, Louise Fawcett, and Matias Spektor as members of our all-star advisory board.

Officially, the project starts in September, but if you look at my reading list, it is already under way! If you would like to learn more, the project summary is below, and I would be glad to discuss. We are also welcoming recommendations for readings, archival sources (especially digitized, given current conditions!), and possible collaborators.

AHRC project summary

Francisco Bilbao, with his 1856 text América en Peligro.

Debates about the state of the international order have leapt from academic journals to the front pages of newspapers and into the discourses of policymakers concerned about sustaining cooperation to address global challenges. International order-a complex of international norms, institutions, and practices that helps structure world politics-is understood to be challenged from without by the rise of new powers and weakened from within by a hollowing out of support from key states. This attention has driven scholarly attempts to better understand international order’s foundation and evolution-and to criticize assumptions of that order’s beneficence.

Many of the norms, institutions, and practices that underpin today’s order emerged in the nineteenth century; the great power bargains that shaped the order were intertwined with the expansion of empires and imposition of racial hierarchies. Scholarship in both global history and international relations increasingly understands the nineteenth century as a pivotal moment in the development international order. This project seeks to better understand the role of Latin America in this process-how did Latin American states shape and how were they shaped by their interactions with these foundational international projects? Given its status during this period-mostly independent but bereft of great powers and marginal to European international society-Latin America has been largely absent from discussions of international order or seen through the lens of their relations with the United States. This absence matters if we want to better understand how projects of international order relate to countries outside their cores. Our research will further de-center understandings of international order’s creation and examine the constraints and possibilities for peripheral influence.

The period was also pivotal for Latin American state consolidation and international insertion. Latin America was long
presumed to be an illiberal backwater during the nineteenth century; however, recent scholarship of the history of political ideas has shown the vibrancy of liberalism and republican projects and practices. Legal history, in turn, has emphasized the relevance of legal traditions and the way in which they informed state formation and international relations. However, we still know little about how domestic and international practices were connected; as such we propose the examination of “Latin America republican internationalism” as a lens through which to examine how domestic politics were manifested in diplomatic practice. The research will benefit global historians, international relations scholars, and historians of republicanism and liberalism in Latin America’s nineteenth century.

The project will examine these developments from 1864-1919 through original archival research in Argentina, Brazil,
Colombia, Mexico, and the USA. We will focus on key moments, such as international and regional summits and the
creation of international organizations, and re-engage the region’s international intellectual currents. We seek a better
understanding of how republicanism and liberalism shaped Latin American diplomatic practices, how Latin America’s
peripheral position affected its engagement with projects of order-building, and how its proposals may have influenced practices of multilateralism. The initial period starts with the First Geneva Conference and is marked by the growing domestic consolidation and international economic insertion of Latin America. At a global level, it was characterized by early creation of international public unions and larger projects of inter-imperial international order-building. From about 1889, we enter a second period in which disparate diplomatic initiatives begin to coalesce into forms that resemble today’s international organizations. Many of these bodies exist today or have been reborn in the post-Second World War institutional architecture.

ISA virtual convention and paper

Next week is the International Studies Association convention. Normally, it’s a highlight of my professional calendar, though doing ISA from my guest bedroom instead of the planned conventions in Honolulu (2020) or Las Vegas (2021) is something of a letdown. I don’t exactly miss the flights, but it certainly is less appealing to spend additional hours teleconferencing with time zones out of whack. Mostly, though, conferences are at least as much about the informal exchanges with friends and colleagues, chance encounters, and the opportunities to meet new people as they are about presenting papers. And so half the experience–by far the more enjoyable half!–is lost. Sometimes those things get written off as just “fun,” but those sorts of meetings have actually had somewhat career-altering effects for me, including with someone who is now a good friend with whom I’ve co-authored, exchanged fellowship visits, applied for grants, etc.

Despite attending ISA from my own house (and during a week in which we’re all supposed to be on holiday!), I’ve ended up with a full schedule. I’m presenting one paper (abstract and draft below), chairing a round table on Latin American contributions to international order, and acting as discussant for two other panels.

My paper is “Joining the global, protecting the regional: Latin America in the post-WWII critical juncture.” In part because the last seven months left almost no time for writing and research, it took a somewhat different direction. I have reams of archival documents from Chile and Argentina, in particular, that I’ve had little time to review. But the change of direction is also a reflection of some of the theoretical reading I’ve been doing, and my interest in engaging with work on international hierarchy more directly. So the abstract is in the right ballpark, but the draft paper, goes in a somewhat more theoretical direction.

Abstract: Following the Second World War, the United States advanced projects of international order-building at the global level, as well as across various regions. IR scholars have long been noted that US-led regional projects varied in nature—with leading accounts treating European projects as multilateral, Asian projects as networks of bilateralism, and the Western Hemisphere as “crudely imperial” in Ikenberry’s words. These projects of regional order-building have been studied predominantly from the perspectives of the United States and, at times, other Allied great powers. While Latin America has received limited attention in the immediate post-WWII period, it offers an important site for understanding how secondary and smaller powers engaged with the simultaneous reconstitution of regional and global orders. As that already possessed long traditions of sovereignty, diplomacy, and regional organization, Latin America was the most active group of Global South countries in shaping the postwar emergence of “liberal international order.” Drawing on archival work in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and the Untied States, this paper explores how Latin American leaders and diplomats understood and sought to shape the interface between inter-American regional institutions and global patterns of order.