Whatever interest has been shown to date in the agrarian history of Latin America has largely been concentrated on the colonial period. Even so, our present knowledge about Latin American rural society before Independence remains highly uneven and fragmentary. Only a few regions or districts have been researched in depth. Vital factors such as the movements of rural prices are largely unknown. Moreover, the dependence of scholars on Jesuit documentation illustrates the scarcity of other sources to explain the internal functioning of the large estate.
The present volume therefore presents an ambitious and innovative approach and shows that there is indeed some significant ongoing research being conducted into the agrarian history of the last 150 years. Naturally enough, however, the contributions vary widely, in terms of approach, methodology, and sources; and naturally enough the coverage of regions and types of agricultural production is inevitably somewhat uneven. Some are studies on the macro-level, others on the micro-level. Yet, while far from all of them are actually written by historians, almost all illustrate the historical process of modernization within the agrarian sector of Latin America in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The aim of the present commentary will therefore simply be to place the papers in this volume, and others presented at the Cambridge conference, within a broader historical context, and to relate them to the actual state of historical research, In turn, this double purpose will imply an evaluation of the usefulness of these essays for comparative studies and as a basis for generalizations and theoretical models.