Imperial representations and national identities in Iberian America (1914-1918)

The local impacts of a global conflict

Date: 31 August 2017, 02:30–05:00

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 303



In the last two decades, historiography has begun to study the multiple repercussions of the First World War in nations that kept neutrality or had a limited military participation in the conflict. Spain, Portugal and their former imperial possessions in the Americas are clear examples of the disruptive effects of the war on this region’s economies, diplomatic alignments and cultural linkages. For instance, the Great War provoked the dislocation of previous trade circuits and their subsequent reconfiguration; challenged old interstate alliances, and encouraged the reassessment of traditional cultural relations.
Specifically, the respective national representations of “Empire” –understood as the ability for political, economic and cultural leadership- were agents of identity and otherness creation in sceneries peripheral to the hot spots of the conflict. In this sense, the Iberian American community constitutes a paradigmatic case of different national paths for the dilemma between belligerence or neutrality on both sides of the Atlantic.
On the one hand, in Europe, the Spanish case referred to the social self-perception of internal and external weaknesses in a context of a profound economic and social crisis, with the additional problem of Morocco. It decisively influenced the social debate around neutrality. The contrast with its Latin sibling is highly suggestive: the Italian prejudice against neutrality as a policy of weaklings, along with the irredentist and expansionist sentiment, became referential elements for Latin imperialism’s politics and culture. The same imperialist dimension can be found in the duality of the Portuguese national narrative and the deep paradox of taking up arms to defend its African colonies in 1914 and, at the same time, remaining neutral in Europe. Material but especially ideological interests explain the strong contradictions observed in Portuguese society facing the achievement of consensus for belligerence. However, the reactivation of nationalisms through imperialist representations would be challenged by the conflict itself. The Russian Empire’s collapse and the revolutionary fuse that ignited in Europe broke down the foundations of that path of national building in countries like Spain, Portugal or Italy, where the social schism threatened with civil war.
On the other hand, in Latin America the war fostered several projects of cultural and/or political imperialism from the belligerent powers, which appealed to the presumed existence of transnational identities shared with the subcontinent’s neutral nations to mobilize them in their favor. Thus, the Allied powers emphasized the call to the Latin race unity, which would find in France its main referent, menaced by Germanic expansionism. Since 1917, the United States urged continental solidarity under the motto of Pan-Americanism and the abandonment of the until then hegemonic neutrality. On their part, the defenders of neutrality vindicated Spain, reassessing the linkages with the former metropoli and abandoning Hispanophobia to embrace a renewed Hispanophilia. The circulation of these imperial ideologies revived the debates around national identity in Latin America, and led to the reflection on the bonds with Europe and the Americas. Finally, in the New World the echoes of the Russian revolution were later than in Europe, which indicates the need to look over global periodizations in order to conciliate them with the local dynamics.
This panel aims to address the national representations of imperialist solutions in the Iberian American space, and the short and medium term breaks produced by the Russian revolution in different political cultures. It will particularly deal with the turning points in the local reception of the war, the range of the ruptures in various fields, and the transnational connections that were modified or established along the conflict.


María Inés Tato (University of Buenos Aires)
Carolina García Sanz (University of Seville)


Ana Paula Pires (IHC-FCSH-Universidade Nova de Lisboa / Stanford University)


Carolina García Sanz (University of Seville)
David Marcilhacy (Paris-Sorbonne University)
Ana Paula Pires
(IHC-FCSH-Universidade Nova de Lisboa / Stanford University)
Carla Russ (Free University Berlin)
María Inés Tato (University of Buenos Aires)


Carolina García Sanz: Imaging empires in the Mediterranean (1898-1915): Spain and Italy at the crossroads

By the end of the XIXth century, a collective crisis of conscience was experienced in Southern Europe. The British ultimatum of 1890 to the Portuguese in Africa; Spain’s loss of last colonies in America and Asia; and the Italian defeat at Adwa impacted deeply on their respective national public opinions. Those circumstances brought about stances on the conflict in 1914.
Unlike in Portugal or in Italy, where the external insecurities and lack of social consensus about the political system tipped the balance toward war, in Spain these were exactly the reasons alleged by the vast majority for not taking the step toward belligerence. Neutrality seemed to be the only realistic choice in view of national weakness. Spanish liberals and leftish intellectuals considered neutrality at two different levels: the state should remain neutral while there was no room for neutrality on social and cultural grounds. However, those who were attempting to turn the idea of an active neutrality into a concrete strategy for Spanish foreign policy (whether consciously or unconsciously) soon succumbed to the temptation of subordination to great powers in the Mediterranean (namely Great Britain and France).
In Italy, the social discussion on neutrality in 1914 revolved around the feasibility of a foreign policy that fitted the national identity as an absolute concept. There was not possible duplicity of political and social spheres. The international stance was not linked only with risorgimental irredentism but also with the process of redefinition of the national identity as an imperial identity. Likewise, the relation between nation and geography was of vital importance. As Italian interventists pointed out ideals of Empire were not a German monopoly so there was also a place in the Adriatic sun for Italian people.
This paper seeks to explore novel ways of thinking the Great War in the Mediterranean theatre, taking innovative approaches to collective “Imperial representations” in the European periphery from 1898 onwards. Basically, we are addressing two very different ways of interpreting a country’s international position due to domestic debates on national identity. The comparative approach to the Spanish and Italian cases intends to reveal the extent to which local representations of great powers were outer political mirrors of inner cultural worlds, with performative capacity for promoting social consensus at war crossroads.

David Marcilhacy: 1914, between two oceans, between two empires

Concentrating on the years 1898-1918, this paper will analyze the attitude of Iberoamerican intellectuals facing the transition from a traditional empire – Spain and its overseas colonies – to a new form of “imperialism” embodied by the USA. Following the Cuban war of 1898, 1914 marked a historical turning point, reconfiguring the international influences in Latin America, especially Central America and the Caribbean. After the beginning of World War I, the destiny of Latin American countries became more autonomous towards Europe, which till then had represented their principal model. Conversely, Latin American nations became more and more dependent on their powerful northern neighbor. 1914 is also the year of the opening of the Panama Canal, an infrastructure which insured the US control of the Mexican Gulf and the Caribbean Sea, thus achieving the transformation of that region into an “American Mediterranean Sea” and offering the USA a strategic advantage in the conquest of new commercial routes towards the Pacific. Hispanic America lies, then, at the very heart of the affirmation of the US global destiny. During the same years, one notices two tendencies emerging among Ibero-American intellectuals: an hispanist affirmation (or nostalgia) on the one hand, and on the other an increasing anti-imperialism, a concept that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century and spread under the influence of Lenin. In this paper, I will therefore trace the interpretation which was given to those mutations through books published around 1914 by some important Latin-American intellectuals, such as the Argentinean Manuel Ugarte, the Mexican Carlos Pereyra, the Nicaraguan Salvador Mendieta or the Venezuelan Rufino Blanco Fombona.

Ana Paula Pires: Images of an empire: Portuguese Africa at war (1914-1918)

The First World War provoked a large movement of people and created extended “contact zones” exposing millions of combatants and non-combatants to new ideas, practices and technologies, creating new spaces of encounter between people and cultures from colonized countries. Despite being a secondary theatre of naval operations the Indian Ocean was an «interregional» arena where political and economic interactions of major historical significance took place, however the analysis of this global waterway as a «cultural milieu» during the war has been almost neglected by international historiography.
The Indian Ocean interlinked Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa and India, putting Portugal, Germany and Britain in contact with Africa and the Orient the articulation of this coherent and multicentered historical unit, enables the (re)discovery of connections, contacts and mismatches between different but paradoxically contiguous worlds.
Focusing on the Portuguese colony of Mozambique this paper aims at understanding moments and processes of cultural encounters in the Indian Ocean during the War exploring imperial contexts and transnational connections.

Carla Russ: Persuasive identities? (Pro-)German propaganda in Chile and Argentina during World War I

In Latin America, World War I was mainly perceived as a media event. Newspapers, photos and, to a lesser extent, films, created a narration of the war scenario in Europe, Africa and Asia that also became part of the newspaper readers' daily lives. The propaganda of the Allies and the Central Powers highly contributed to this massive medial outlet. Foreign propaganda did not only publicly debate the advantages and disadvantages of the Latin American States' political and commercial relations with the belligerents, but it also added a new dimension to the public discussion of national and/or pan-identities, as war propaganda tended to take up ongoing intellectual debates, integrating them into their public narrations.
For German war propaganda, pan-Hispanic thinking came to be a discursive force that could counter French propaganda's quite powerful emotional instrumentalization of a shared pan-Latinist identity. In a sometimes quite crude rhetorical entanglement, being Hispanic then quite often became to mean being a little Teutonic as well. Furthermore, in countries with relatively high percentages of immigrants like Chile and Argentina, German propaganda also was a vehicle for questioning the socio-cultural positioning of the migrants in their new patria. Articles and pamphlets tried to show which contribution the “Germanic” element could make for the consolidation and modernization of national consciousness in the Cono Sur. These discourses quite often oscillated between a language of belonging and the emphasis on cultural/ethnic difference. I will try to demonstrate how German propaganda used different concepts of identity, belonging and difference in Chile and Argentina during WWI in order to establish a persuasive argumentative strategy, that linked diverse political articulations and voices.

María Inés Tato: The Great War and the crisis of the European cultural paradigm in Latin America: An approach from war correspondents’ experiences

In the sixteenth century, Latin America was a crucial part of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires. After the wars of independence, in the first decades of the nineteenth century, Western Europe continued exerting a decisive cultural leadership on the subcontinent, remaining as the main reference for the elites, which adopted France as their new beacon. This fact would determine their attitude towards the Great War, favouring their alignment with the Allied cause through the appeal to Pan-Latinism. Nevertheless, the conflict also seemed to presage the collapse of European civilization, leading to the reappraisal of Latin American potentialities and laying the foundations of another pan-national identity: Latin-Americanism.
This paper will deal with the representations of this cultural crisis through the lens of Latin American war correspondents -who operated as cultural mediators between both sides of the Atlantic-, focusing on the writings of several outstanding journalists, such as Enrique Gómez Carrillo, Juan José de Soiza Reilly and Roberto J. Payró, among others.

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