The Argentine Revolution of 1810 was one of the first successful revolutions in South America against European powers. Jeffrey Shumway has a keen understanding of Argentina’s history, including the complex politics that followed the country’s independence from Spain. He is associate professor in the Department of History and the coordinator for the Latin American Studies program at the Kennedy Center. Just last year, he published A Woman, A Man, A Nation—a fascinating tale of two estranged friends who symbolize the politics of Argentina in the nineteenth century. In the book, he examines the lives of Juan Manuel de Rosas, an authoritarian governor, and Mariquita Sánchez de Mendeville, a key figure in Argentina’s revolution. Once childhood friends, Manuel and Sánchez later become enemies in the midst of the country’s intense political struggle. In reality, their story is the story of Argentina.
“They were in some ways perfect foils for each other, at least in a general sense,” Jeffrey Shumway says about these two figures. Juan Manuel came to power in 1829 and chose authoritarian policies to solve the political unrest, failed constitutions, and civil wars of his time. These policies included increased police activity and targeting deemed-enemies of the state. He would spend the last twenty-five years of his life in exile in England.
Shumway stumbled upon Manuel’s past friendship with Sánchez while reading letters, a diary, and a memoir by Sánchez herself. He describes her as “intelligent, courageous, and a committed participant of the May Revolution against Spain in 1810.” She also helped found the Sociedad de Beneficencia in 1823, a government-sponsored charity. Sánchez fled Buenos Aires in protest of Manuel’s authoritarian rule and returned in 1852. No English text has been published about Rosas since 1982, and no significant work on Mariquita Sánchez exists in English; Jeffrey Shumway sought to change that.
“[The book] is an introduction for English readers to the amazing Mariquita Sánchez, and it is a fresh look at Juan Manuel de Rosas, one of the most controversial figures of nineteenth-century Latin American history,” says Jeffrey Shumway. “Their parallel lives offer us important insights into the beginnings of the Argentine nation.” A Woman, A Man, A Nation is a notable publication, owing to its narrative take on Latin American history.
—Erica Bassett, 27 October 2020