8 June 2012
Latest research from the University of Bristol ensures that the little known role of British adventurers in the Latin American independence struggles is included in national events planned to commemorate 200 years of freedom from Spanish colonial rule.
”...the volunteers who signed up in London, Edinburgh and Dublin were inspired by a mixture of motives in which ideas of liberty and freedom from oppression mingled alongside hopes of economic advancement and desire for adventure. “
Source: Bolivarian Times
Dr Matthew Brown, reader in Latin American Studies, is researching the Bolivarian period of South American history (1810-1830), particularly the role of foreign adventurers serving under military leader and political strategist Simón Bolívar.
“Simón Bolívar was one of the most influential politicians and military leaders in Latin American history” said Matthew. “I’m particularly interested in the role of the British men and women who were inspired to leave their homes and join his struggle in the fight for freedom from Spanish colonial rule.”
Numerous British volunteers, such as such as Daniel Florence O’Leary, signed up to join the liberating armies of the oppressed Latin American nations, many of them serving directly under Bolívar himself. Matthew is also looking at British non-military involvement in the region — for example, the teachers and spies, the British women who married local men — and the cultural impact of these relationships.
“The struggle for independence is a critical moment in each of these countries’ history, attracting much attention from local people, including those who are direct descendants of the men and women who joined the fight for freedom. This is particularly important now as the countries prepare to commemorate the 200-year anniversaries of liberation,” said Matthew.
Drawing from his research on the Bolivarian republics, namely Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama, Matthew uses a blog — Bolivarian Times —to share project findings and news of events, but also to encourage descendants of these foreign adventurers to get in touch or share information that they have discovered about their genealogy.
To date, the research has led to the publication of two books; one resulting from Matthew’s PhD — Adventuring through Spanish Colonies: Simón Bolívar, Foreign Mercenaries and the Birth of New Nations — and another drawing from subsequent research in the University’s Department of Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies — The Struggle for Power in Post-Independence Colombia and Venezuela. Both explore the role of the British in the independence struggles from Spanish colonialism and are being used to contribute to the various events to mark the bicentenaries organised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), in coordination with the Venezuelan and Colombian embassies. The question of how to mark the bicentenary of independence has become a huge political issue across South America because it reflects questions of countries’ national heritage and identity. The commemoration of the contribution of British subjects to these wars of independence is an interesting aspect of debates about celebrations and commemorations in general, particularly for their descendants living in Latin America today.
“This area ignites great public interest” says Matthew. “The history of the struggle for independence across the continent connects current populations to their forebears. Genealogical research is often brought to my attention which provides new angles for my work, sometimes through the project blog. Sometimes, people have very British surnames, and yet they speak little English, and they are recapturing aspects of their family histories which have been in danger of falling out of the family’s collective memory.”
Matthew has given a wide range of public talks on the subject in Venezuela, Colombia, Spain, France and the UK, attracting sizeable audiences in locations such as the British Library, the mayoral office in Medellín, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, and the National Army Museum in Paris. Such events provide ample opportunity for audiences to engage in discussions, often contributing new knowledge from their family histories. Further dissemination of research include Matthew’s translation of some of Bolívar’s writings, making this information available for the first time to a British audience, and running history master classes for FCO Latin American desk officers. He is also supervising a PhD student who is conducting a broader study of British involvement in Latin American independence, including the independence struggles in Peru and Chile.
“For me, it’s very important that a record of British involvement in liberation is not just documented, but relived in some way, particularly for the people whose ancestors contributed to the liberation of their country. The forthcoming bicentennial celebrations provide a perfect focus,” said Matthew. “Independence from colonial rule is such an important historical period in the region’s identity and it is very important to understand the British contribution in that process.”
Dr Matthew Brown can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brown, M.D. (2006) Adventuring through Spanish Colonies: Simón Bolívar, Foreign Mercenaries and the Birth of New Nations, Liverpool University Press
Brown, M.D. (2012)The Struggle for Power in Post-Independence Colombia and Venezuela, Palgrave/Macmillan
Further references on Dr Brown’s research is available on his online profile on the University of Bristol website. See the press release about the publication of Dr Brown's second book.
Please contact Laura Greenwood for further information.
For me, it’s very important that a record of British involvement in liberation is not just documented, but relived in some way, particularly for the people whose ancestors contributed to the liberation of their country. The forthcoming bicentennial celebrations provide a perfect focus.