The Conquest of the Desert: Argentina's Indigenous Peoples and the Battle for History.

AuthorRothera, Evan C.

Carolyne R. Larson, The Conquest of the Desert: Argentina's Indigenous Peoples and the Battle for History. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2020.

La Conquista del Desierto--the Conquest of the Desert--continues to polarize people. The name refers to a series of military campaigns conducted by Argentine forces from 1878 to 1885 that were designed to drive indigenous people out of the pampas and Patagonia. As Carolyne R. Larson observes, "Many in Argentina today see the conquest as bringing civilization to a barbaric landscape" but other people routinely spray-paint monuments of Julio A. Roca, the commander of the conquest and later president of Argentina, with phrases such as "Roca = genocide" and "Assassin" (1). Larson, currently associate professor of history at St. Norbert College and author of Our Indigenous Ancestors: A Cultural History of Museums, Science, and Identity in Argentina, 1877-1943 (2015), has assembled a talented group of scholars who examine the events of the conquest and their specific meanings to "unpack the issues of nation, violence, memory, colonialism, and indigeneity entangled within them" (2). In addition, the chapters in this volume foreground indigenous voices to locate counternar-ratives that challenge long-accepted ideas and stories about the conquest.

Larson opens with a detailed discussion of the official story of the conquest and analyzes the "military, state, and popular press sources that chiefly crafted the conquests central narratives of national urgency, peaceful conquest, indigenous disappearance, and triumphant civilization" (17-18). She provides important background information, especially for readers who are not well versed in the history of these events. Julio Vezub and Mark Healey flip the official story on its head by narrating the conquest from the viewpoint of Mapuche and Tehuelche caciques, not from the perspective of Argentine soldiers and leaders. Vezub and Healey assert that "indigenous leaders were far more effective than previous scholars have recognized in coordinating actions, protecting their people, and negotiating terms of subordination to the newly powerful national state" (44). Rob Christensen contends that the Argentine army's victory was "shaped by the confluence of many forces outside creole leaders' control" (71). His focus on the environment places him among scholars who have begun to emphasize relationships among environmental factors and military campaigns...

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