The best books on Black History in Argentina and Uruguay

Who am I?

I am a historian of the slave trade and slavery in the Rio de la Plata region (today’s Argentina and Uruguay) who then turned to the study of the traffic of captive Africans in the whole Spanish Americas. Yet, my love remains in the Rio de la Plata, what I call the “cold Caribbean.” Exciting books on the history of Africans and their descendants examine this region within the framework of Atlantic History, racial capitalism, gender, and the connections between twentieth-century Black culture and politics. As these recommendations are limited to English-language books, readers should note that much more has been published on this subject in Spanish and Portuguese.

I wrote...

From Shipmates to Soldiers: Emerging Black Identities in the Río de la Plata

By Alex Borucki,

Book cover of From Shipmates to Soldiers: Emerging Black Identities in the Río de la Plata

What is my book about?

This book analyzes the shared history of Africans and their descendants in Montevideo and Buenos Aires from the late colonial era to the first decades of independence. Enslaved Africans created social identities based on their common experiences in these two towns, ranging from surviving together the Atlantic and coastal forced passages on slave vessels to serving as soldiers in the independence-era Black battalions. In addition to the slave trade and the military, their participation in Black lay Catholic brotherhoods, African-based associations called nations, and the lettered culture shaped their social identities. Linking specific regions of Africa to the Río de la Plata region, this book also explores the ties of the free Black and enslaved populations to the larger society in which they found themselves.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World

Why did I love this book?

Greg Grandin integrates the history of a slave rebellion in the vessel Tryal sailing from Valparaiso (Chile) to Lima (Peru) to the large narrative of how capitalism fueled slavery in the early nineteenth century. As the captives passed through the Rio de la Plata region on their way from Africa to Chile, Grandin weaves the history of the southern cone of South America in this story of deception. Herman Melville’s novel Benito Cereno (1855) popularized this slave rebellion, which allows Grandin to establish connections between the North and South Atlantic. Intriguingly, Grandin found another story of a shipboard slave rebellion on the vessel San Juan Nepomuceno, where captives made it back from Montevideo to Africa, which perhaps constitutes the most successful shipboard slave rebellion in the history of this horrific traffic. 

By Greg Grandin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Empire of Necessity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One morning in 1805, off a remote island in the South Pacific, Captain Amasa Delano, a New England seal hunter, climbed aboard a distressed Spanish ship carrying scores of West Africans he thought were slaves. They weren't. Having earlier seized control of the vessel and slaughtered most of the crew, they were staging an elaborate ruse, acting as if they were humble servants. When Delano, an idealistic, anti-slavery republican, finally realized the deception, he responded with explosive violence. Drawing on research on four continents, The Empire of Necessity explores the multiple forces that culminated in this extraordinary event-an event that…

Book cover of Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic

Why did I love this book?

Erika Edwards decenters the study of the African diaspora in Argentina from Buenos Aires by studying Cordoba, at the geographic heart of this country. The author employs gender as a structuring category of understanding conceptions of race, as she examines the actions of Black women who shaped their own sexual experiences and marriage patterns, creating new forms of identity based on the changing conceptions of race and law at the time, as Argentina was transitioning from colony to nation. In doing so, Edwards charters a process beginning in nineteenth-century Cordoba, which then became one of the keys to understanding a gendered conception of Blackness in modern Argentina. 

By Erika Denise Edwards,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hiding in Plain Sight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the African American Intellectual History Society's Best Black History Books of 2020

Details how African-descended women's societal, marital, and sexual decisions forever reshaped the racial makeup of Argentina

Argentina promotes itself as a country of European immigrants. This makes it an exception to other Latin American countries, which embrace a more mixed-African, Indian, European-heritage. Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic traces the origins of what some white Argentines mischaracterize as a "black disappearance" by delving into the intimate lives of black women and explaining how they contributed to…

Book cover of Black Legend: The Many Lives of Raúl Grigera and the Power of Racial Storytelling in Argentina

Why did I love this book?

Paulina Alberto wrote a binge-reading biography of Raúl Grigera, a Black legend of Buenos Aires during the golden age of tango. While Alberto reconstructs the family’s history of Grigera since the times of slavery in early nineteenth-century Argentina, the narrative arc of the book is the unequal power to control narratives about the self, which affected Grigera and other Black men and women who suffered the dominant and racist narratives about Blackness in Argentina, particularly on the disappearance of Afro-Argentines. This book illustrates the biographical turn in African Diaspora Studies combined with an exquisite interdisciplinary approach, which Alberto employs in her examination of “racial stories” as a methodology.

By Paulina L. Alberto,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Legend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Celebrities live their lives in constant dialogue with stories about them. But when these stories are shaped by durable racist myths, they wield undue power to ruin lives and obliterate communities. Black Legend is the haunting story of an Afro-Argentine, Raul Grigera ('el negro Raul'), who in the early 1900s audaciously fashioned himself into an alluring Black icon of Buenos Aires' bohemian nightlife, only to have defamatory storytellers unmake him. In this gripping history, Paulina Alberto exposes the destructive power of racial storytelling and narrates a new history of Black Argentina and Argentine Blackness across two centuries. With the extraordinary…

Book cover of Blackness in the White Nation: A History of Afro-Uruguay

Why did I love this book?

George Reid Andrews is one of the founders of Afro-Latin American Studies. In Blackness in the White Nation, he combines the study of Afro-Uruguayan music and performance of candombe, the African-based rhythm that Uruguay shares with Argentina (as these countries share tango too), with the history of Afro-Uruguayan political mobilization in the twentieth century. Andrews guides readers into this story by telling them about his experience of learning candombe, and marching playing the drums on the streets of Montevideo, which makes this story unique. We learn how a country who depicts itself as predominantly populated by descendants of Europeans, appropriated African-based music and dance as a national rhythm.

By George Reid Andrews,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blackness in the White Nation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Uruguay is not conventionally thought of as part of the African diaspora, yet during the period of Spanish colonial rule, thousands of enslaved Africans arrived in the country. Afro-Uruguayans played important roles in Uruguay's national life, creating the second-largest black press in Latin America, a racially defined political party, and numerous social and civic organizations.

Afro-Uruguayans were also central participants in the creation of Uruguayan popular culture and the country's principal musical forms, tango and candombe. Candombe, a style of African-inflected music, is one of the defining features of the nation's culture, embraced equally by white and black citizens.


Rethinking Race in Modern Argentina

By Paulina L. Alberto (editor), Eduardo Elena (editor),

Book cover of Rethinking Race in Modern Argentina

Why did I love this book?

This edited volume does a lot of things, allowing authors who have published in Spanish to advance their arguments in English as well as establishing conversations among historians, literary scholars, and anthropologists. Some authors focus on the production and consumption of culture, like Matthew Karush with his examination of the Afro-Argentinean guitar player Oscar Alemán, and Rebekah Pite’s chapter on food history. Ezequiel Adamovsky and Eduardo Elena essays center on race and class during the foundation of Peronism as a political movement, and representations of skin color in politics since mid-twentieth century. While Peronism has never openly challenged conceptions of a White Argentina, some non-white Argentineans sought Peronism as a space to challenge ideas of whiteness.

By Paulina L. Alberto (editor), Eduardo Elena (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rethinking Race in Modern Argentina as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book reconsiders the relationship between race and nation in Argentina during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and places Argentina firmly in dialog with the literature on race and nation in Latin America, from where it has long been excluded or marginalized for being a white, European exception in a mixed-race region. The contributors, based both in North America and Argentina, hail from the fields of history, anthropology, and literary and cultural studies. Their essays collectively destabilize widespread certainties about Argentina, showing that whiteness in that country has more in common with practices and ideologies of Mestizaje and 'racial democracy'…

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Interested in Argentina, race relations, and slave rebellions?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Argentina, race relations, and slave rebellions.

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