Saturday, June 27, 2015

Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History

Morales Carrión, Arturo, Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History, New York: W. W. Norton, 1983.

Reviewed in The Christian Science Monitor.

Review by Thomas G. Mathews:
There has never been available a scholarly one volume general history on Puerto Rico in English. There have been and are popular histories written in English and Spanish for the general public and there are text book like histories written for the high school level in Spanish and English. Until now a well written, adequately documented, balanced and fairly objective history in English has been lamentably lacking. Arturo Morales Carrión, and his four colleagues, have filled this void. Prepared at the request of the editors of the American Association for State and Local History, this work, if it were to be published in Spanish could stand as an authoritative national history for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The volume covers quite adequately a vast span of time from the pre-historical period, the four hundred years of Spanish control, and the modern period up to about 1970. The balance achieved in the coverage is excellent with two thirds of the book allotted to the present century.

The chapters in the first part of the book are written by three colleagues of the principal author and cover the Spanish colonial period. These chapters, although not documented, are supported by a rich collection of references which is more than just an annotated bibliography, but is rather a very judicious selection of works for further study on the topics covered in each chapter. Each contributor is a specialist in a particular time period in Puerto Rican history. Aida Caro contributes two chapters on the Spanish colonial administration and the church as they affected Puerto Rico during the first two centuries of Spanish rule. Luis González, an economic historian, contributes three chapters on the Bourbon period and the nineteenth century. Arturo Santana, drawing on his doctoral dissertation, writes on the early influences of the United States in the Caribbean, and specifically Puerto Rico, at the time of revolutionary turmoil. In the last chapter of the book, María Teresa Babín contributes a stirring essay on the cultural history of Puerto Rico. Each of these contributors write with authority and knowledge, backing their interpretations with a wealth of material drawn from a life of scholarly work.

The bulk of the book, eight chapters on the XXth century, is the work of Arturo Morales Carrión and it is here that the merit of the book lies. The chapters are exceptionally well written. The use of source material of both primary and secondary nature shows a very skillful professional hand. but most of all the author has come very close to achieving what many, myself included, would say is impossible: an objectivity and balance which must bring out praise from the full spectrum of Puerto Rican politics.

The author, as he confesses in the text, was a “close associate of Governor (Luis) Muñoz (Marín).” (p. 299) Although trained as a historian, Morales Carrión spent many years in government administrative posts, in both Puerto Rican and United States State Departments. He has given evidence, in this work at least, that he may be longer remembered as a historian rather than a diplomat. This is a job well done.

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