The history of Latin America consists of a multitude of indigenous cultures influenced by the traditions and languages of European and African countries. The "Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture" is an admirable attempt to present this fascinating history as widely as possible "to reflect the way Latin Americans of all classes understand their world." The encyclopedia is the product of six years of effort led by editor-in-chief Tenenbaum, who is Specialist in Mexican Culture at the Library of Congress. Tenenbaum and an advisory board of five scholars from universities in the U.S. selected topics to be covered by compiling lists of entries included in the encyclopedia's predecessors, "The Encyclopedia of Latin American History" (Bobbs-Merrill, 1968) and "The Encyclopedia of Latin America" (McGraw-Hill, 1974). Entries were added and deleted based on "recent events and changes in historical perspective.
The encyclopedia includes 5,287 entries covering "all aspects of Latin American culture from prehistoric times to the present day." Emphasis is on political, economic, and social history, but articles on art, anthropology and archaeology, and other cultural topics are included with a focus on their impact on history. The articles were written by 832 contributors, whose affiliations are listed in the last volume. Most are affiliated with universities in the U.S., but others represent organizations (Organization of American States), museums (Smithsonian), and entities ranging from the U.S. Army Defense Language Institute to "Billboard Magazine" (the articles" Bossa Nova" and "Lambada"). Contributors represent approximately 20 countries, including Great Britain, Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Argentina. The geographic scope of the encyclopedia includes "all areas of the western hemisphere that had once been part of the Spanish empire," such as the Spanish borderlands that are now part of the U.S. Non-Spanish-speaking countries (with the exceptions of Brazil and Haiti) are covered by shorter essays
The alphabetically arranged articles range from 100 words to 56 pages ("Brazil"). Many of the shorter articles are biographical. The 3,000 biographies make this set the most comprehensive general biographical source for Latin American history. Included also are persons from other countries whose policies or actions affected Latin America (Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson Popenoe). The biographical articles are also listed in an appendix by sex and occupation or activity such as "Revolutionary Leadership" and "Religion" (including saints, shamans, and missionaries). Other shorter articles are definitions of terms (e.g., "cochineal", a red dye made from insects) and entries for cities
Longer articles on cross-cultural topics such as "Religion", "Women", and "Agriculture" are often subdivided by country or subtopic. Articles include numerous cross-references and conclude with brief bibliographies that are sometimes written as bibliographic essays or reviews of the literature. Many of the citations are to Spanish-language works. Articles on political, economic, historical, and social issues are excellent. For example, "African-Latin American Religions" includes an overview of these religions in Brazil with a discussion of the complex relationships among Candomble, Santeria, Macumba, and other religions. The reading list mentions an extraordinary bibliography ("Ashe" by John Gray). A fascinating article on the pirates of the Caribbean clearly describes the differences among pirates, privateers, and buccaneers; mentions the roles of two women in the history of piracy; and concludes with an excellent bibliography. "Alcoholic Beverages" includes sections on traditional beverages such as chicha, pulque, and aguardiente as well as daiquiris and margaritas. "Creole" explains the reason for confusion regarding this term--the word means different things in Spanish America, Brazil, and English-speaking areas. Controversial topics are handled by either sidestepping the controversy ("Bullfighting") or describing them in an unbiased manner. For example, "Alamo, Battle of the" notes a tendency to forget the role of Texas Mexicans who died there and includes materials on the overlooked Mexican side in its bibliography
The relatively small amount of space allotted to archaeological topics is indicative of the economic and political focus of the set. The article "Tikal", which calls it "the largest and most thoroughly studied Maya site," is only one-half page in length--less space than that allotted to "Indigo"and includes only one photo. Its bibliography lists volumes of the "Tikal Report" published through 1986, though several have been published since then. The article "Copan" is out-of-date. A note at the end of the article indicates that "field work was still going on in 1991," which indicates that it may have been written five years ago. "Tarascans" does not mention the significance of this group of people as early makers of copper implements. The uneven coverage of these topics is unfortunate because they are inseparable from issues of pre-Columbian political and economic history. On the other hand, the articles on the Peruvian site of "Tucume" and on "Caracol", the largest Mayan site in Belize, were written by archaeologists currently working at those sites, and recent works are included in their bibliographies
The set includes a 114-page index. The encyclopedia's 600 illustrations consist of contemporary or historic black-and-white photographs or reproductions of artwork. Many of these are striking and would be difficult to find elsewhere, such as one of an exuberant Fidel Castro addressing factory workers. There are a few charts and graphs but no floor plans or plans of archaeological sites. Among the 60 interesting thematic maps is one depicting the percent of population of African descent in Latin American countries. The endpapers consist of political-physical maps of the region
The "Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture" is the only up-to-date comprehensive encyclopedia of Latin America. Despite a few flaws, it is recommended for public, academic, and high-school reference collections.