Sarmiento’s Facundo, or Civilization and Barbarism

Your first assignment is based on your reading of an important primary text: Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’s Facundo (also called either Civilization and Barbarism or Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days of the Tyrants). Sarmiento has been called the “author of his nation,” not just because he was politically active in Argentina (including serving as its president), but also because he quite self-consciously attempted to write the nation into existence. (What does this mean? Think about it in relation to the questions I ask below.) In fact, he left behind over 52 volumes of writings and many more un-collected documents and articles. One scholar called the work we are reading “the single most important piece of writing of the Spanish American independence period.”

For your first paper, I would like you to write a 3-5 page essay based on Facundo. Please pick only ONE of the following topics.

Please write on ONE of the following questions:

  1. The Nation. Discuss Sarmiento’s approach to the Argentine nation. Who makes up the nation for Sarmiento? Is anyone left out? Why are some people considered to be in and some out for Sarmiento? Are there contradictions in Sarmiento’s thinking about this issue? Do you think he is just sloppy, or can seeming contradictions be explained by a broader analysis?

  2. Binary Identities. Identities, it has been suggested, are often elaborated on the basis of what one is not rather than what one is. In that sense, identities are developed as binaries, and in that light, Sarmiento’s division into “civilization” and “barbarism” is a fairly classic move that is employed all the time. Think about what produces each of these identities in Sarmiento’s mind? What is their relationship to each other? Can “the civilized” citizen exist without the “barbarian”? Feel free to call on contemporary events, other reading you have done or films you have seen in order to develop your analysis of Sarmiento’s binary system of identity. But make sure you back up your determinations about Sarmiento with quotes from his writing.

  3. The Text. Discuss the nature of Sarmiento’s argument and how he develops his authority (his credibility, i.e., why a reader should believe him) in his text. What kind of text is this? Is it a literary text? An historical text? How does Sarmiento get his readers to accept his narrative as valid, and who is his reader, what audience is he writing for? What does he want his audience to do once they read this? Is it a call to action?