Workshop of Revolution

Plebeian Buenos Aires and the Atlantic World, 1776–1810

Workshop of Revolution

Book Pages: 432 Illustrations: 30 illustrations, 12 tables, 6 figures Published: May 2011

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Southern Cone

The plebeians of Buenos Aires were crucial to the success of the revolutionary junta of May 1810, widely considered the start of the Argentine war of independence. Workshop of Revolution is a historical account of the economic and political forces that propelled the artisans, free laborers, and slaves of Buenos Aires into the struggle for independence. Drawing on extensive archival research in Argentina and Spain, Lyman L. Johnson portrays the daily lives of Buenos Aires plebeians in unprecedented detail. In so doing, he demonstrates that the world of Spanish colonial plebeians can be recovered in reliable and illuminating ways. Johnson analyzes the demographic and social contexts of plebeian political formation and action, considering race, ethnicity, and urban population growth, as well as the realms of work and leisure. During the two decades prior to 1810, Buenos Aires came to be thoroughly integrated into Atlantic commerce. Increased flows of immigrants from Spain and slaves from Africa and Brazil led to a decline in real wages and the collapse of traditional guilds. Laborers and artisans joined militias that defended the city against British invasions in 1806 and 1807, and they defeated a Spanish loyalist coup attempt in 1809. A gravely weakened Spanish colonial administration and a militarized urban population led inexorably to the events of 1810 and a political transformation of unforeseen scale and consequence.


“[I]n Workshop of Revolution Johnson exhibits a mastery of late-colonial archival sources and the deep, thoughtful analysis of a veteran historian. This important addition to the history of pre-independence Buenos Aires succeeds at expertly situating a traditional microstudy of urban laborers within the larger trends of Atlantic history.... Workshop of Revolution contributes to the history of race and class in colonial Spanish America, persuasively showing how workers were important and complex actors — albeit a class divided on the eve of independence.” — Edward P. Pompeian, Labor

Workshop of Revolution is an outstanding book. Its solid research, insightful analysis and excellent comparative perspectives make it mandatory reading for anyone interested in topics related to late colonial history, Atlantic history, social and economic history, and early independent Argentine and Latin American history.” — Jorge Nállim, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“[A] major contribution by one of the field’s best historians. . . . Highly recommended.” — K. L. Racine, Choice

“In this superbly written work, Professor Johnson presents a book that successfully integrates Latin American and Atlantic history through the examination of the plebeians in Buenos Aires during the last decades of colonial rule in the Americas. This work goes beyond social history; it illuminates rich aspects of the urban history, daily life, gender, and political history of Buenos Aires, always connected to the broader Atlantic context. …This work is an important contribution for debates on decolonisation and state formation, and it will capture the interest of scholars of other regions of Latin America, from Mexico to Brazil. The book constitutes a good reading for graduate seminars, as well as many chapters that could be assigned for undergraduate courses.”
— Fabricio Prado, Itinerario

“Lyman Johnson’s valedictory study of plebeian labor and politics in late colonial Buenos Aires is a masterwork of social and political history…. His work is a landmark study that will critically inform future work on colonial popular politics and social history.” — James E. Sanders, The Americas

“I praise his book, for Johnson offers tantalizingly novel perspectives on long-lasting historiographical puzzles. Methodology and sources often get in the way of most scholars' visions, when in fact they ought to be means in order to answer questions…. Johnson show that in-depth local history can alter our understanding of much larger processes.” — Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Latin American Research Review

“Lyman Johnson has added a much-needed component to the history of late colonial Buenos Aires with his detailed study of the city’s plebeian sector…. [E]ach chapter provides an insightful addition to the overall picture.” — Peter Blanchard, Social History

“[A] hugely impressive work that weaves together political, social and economic history and is based on a prodigious level of primary research.” — Joseph Hardwick, Immigrants & Minorities

“Lyman Johnson's Workshop of Revolution is an incredibly rich study of labour relations in the Rio de la Plata on the eve of trans-Atlantic revolution. This work fills a critical gap in the historical scholarship of the Atlantic world and independence movements.” — Jessica Stites Mor, Canadian Journal of History

"An extraordinarily close look at every aspect of the life of artisans and laborers in Buenos Aires, from types of dwellings and shop culture to forms of leisure and sociability." — Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Latin American Research Review

“This important book presents a completely new interpretation of Argentina’s independence era. Lyman L. Johnson uses Buenos Aires artisans as an entryway into the war of independence, depicting both the lower classes of Buenos Aires and the city itself with sensitivity and intelligence. It should be noted that Workshop of Revolution is a fine urban history.” — Charles F. Walker, author of Shaky Colonialism: The 1746 Earthquake-Tsunami in Lima, Peru, and Its Long Aftermath

Workshop of Revolution is an extremely well-researched, pathbreaking book, which makes new and substantial contributions to Latin American, working-class, and Atlantic history. Presenting an immense wealth of new archival material, Lyman L. Johnson not only respectfully and meticulously re-creates the lives and times of artisans in late-colonial Argentina, but also connects their lives to the wider society, broad imperial issues such as the slave trade, and the revolutionary forces emerging in the Atlantic world.” — Kenneth J. Andrien, author of Andean Worlds: Indigenous History, Culture, and Consciousness under Spanish Rule, 1532–1825


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lyman L. Johnson is Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He is a co-author of Colonial Latin America, the editor of Death, Dismemberment, and Memory: Body Politics in Latin America, and a co-editor of Aftershocks: Earthquakes and Popular Politics in Latin America and The Faces of Honor: Sex, Shame, and Violence in Colonial Latin America.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Introduction 1

1. Plebeian City: Late Colonial Buenos Aires 17

2. The Structures of working Life: Masculinity, Sociability, Skill, and Honor 51

3. Remembered Scripts and Atlantic Colonial Realities: The Shoemakers and Silversmiths of Buenos Aires 85

4. Collective Obligations, Self-Interest, and Race: The Guilds of Silversmiths and Shoemakers Fail 117

5. The "French Conspiracy" of 1795 149

6. The Reproduction of Working-Class Life: Needing, Wanting, Having, and Saving 179

7. Working-Class Wages, Earnings, and the Organization of Urban Work 215

8. An Empire Lost: The Plebe Transformed 249

Epilogue 283

Notes 297

Bibliography 367

Index 391
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4981-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4966-2
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