Reimagining Region and Nation
Recent scholarly overviews of Colombian history tend to assume that
the mountainous topography of colonial New Granada gave rise to au-
tonomous regions. Entrenched regionalism, according to this reasoning,
impeded republican efforts to modernize the state and integrate the frag-
mented nation, leading to endemic violence and a weak national govern-
ment. There is much truth to this narrative of truncated nation-state
formation, but it overemphasizes continuity and essentializes geography.
This book shifts the emphasis away from how geography shaped history,
focusing instead on how history shaped geography. Rather than envision
regionalism as a colonial holdover that impeded national integration, I
view Colombian nation-state formation as a process of creating a national
geography composed of regions. Regions thus emerged as part of the pro-
cess of Colombian nation-state formation. This change in focus reveals
the historical dynamism of regional identities.∞
The case of Riosucio, a town founded on the eve of Independence and
named for a muddy creek, demonstrates the mutability and contested
nature of regional boundaries. Over time, Riosucio belonged to several
shifting and overlapping regions: el gran Cauca, Antioquia la grande, el
viejo Caldas, la región cafetera. In Riosucio—and throughout postcolonial
Colombia—seemingly timeless and primordial geographical identities
were constituted and reconstituted through colonization and myth-
making. Competing groups fought and negotiated over control of natural
resources and local governments. The winners in these struggles consoli-
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