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Cultural Legacies of the War of the Pacific in Chile and Bolivia

Calendar Thursday, 14 March 2019
Calendar 16:00-18:00

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A research seminar with guest speakers Dr Paul Merchant (University of Bristol) and Javier Cortés-Ortuño (Cardiff University) as part of the Borders and Bodies research theme the School of Modern Languages.

An unquiet ocean: Eduardo Abaroa, the War of the Pacific and Bolivian cultural identity by Dr Paul Merchant


Eduardo Abaroa, a soldier in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), is perhaps the most visible of Bolivia’s national heroes. That conflict saw the annexation of Bolivia’s Pacific coastline by Chile, and generated a diplomatic conflict that recently resurfaced at the International Court of Justice. This paper argues that the Bolivian government’s encouragement of cultural production associated with the ‘demanda marítima’ draws on a long tradition of artistic engagement with the topic.The paper explores the paradoxes generated by a contradictory appeal to both the ocean, an apparently boundless space, and the symbolically overdetermined body of Abaroa, as figures for territorial national identity. Cultural works that make this gesture include the 1952 radio play Ausencia y retorno del mar and the 1984 film Amargo mar. The paper argues that the cultural productions analysed reveal a network of relations between human actors, nonhuman environments and aesthetic forms that is irreducible to a singular political project. The paper ultimately suggests that it is precisely the impossibility of converting the Pacific into a metaphorical vehicle of national identity that is a defining element of modern Bolivian culture.


Dr Paul Merchant is a lecturer in Latin American film and visual culture at the University of Bristol. His current research explores the tensions between territorial and ecological approaches to bodies of water in Chile and Bolivia. He is a co-editor of the forthcoming volume The Limits of the Human in Latin American Culture, and has co-edited a special issue of the Journal of Romance Studies on domestic space in contemporary Latin American cinema.

Writing the desert of desires by Javier Cortés-Ortuño


From 1930 to 1970, a number of Chilean writers became part of a literary endeavour to depict the desert northern regions that had been annexed from Bolivia and Peru after the War of the Pacific. Many of these writings take the form of tragic love stories whose characters struggle against social conventions, economic precarity, political violence and human nature itself. Their protagonists’ desire for love, lasting marriage and family, tends to be thwarted. In this paper I compare Los Pampinos (1956) by Luis González and Punta de Rieles (1960) by Manuel Rojas, both novels in which a Chilean working-class male protagonist embarks in a relationship with a woman of foreign descent (Peruvian and Bolivian, respectively). My proposal is that different writers within this historical period imagined the desert as a landscape in which desires could exceed gender, national, class and ethnic boundaries, therefore questioning the Chilean society of their time and its attitudes to these social differences. Nonetheless, they ended up devising mostly tragic love stories because the same desires transform their protagonists into others, strangers to the by-then prevalent Chilean family model in which love was supposed to triumph.


Javier Cortés-Ortuño is a PhD student in Modern Languages.

Simultaneous Translation

The event will be delivered in the medium of English. You are welcome to ask questions in the medium of Welsh during the QandA session. If you intend to do this, please contact by Thursday 28 February to request simultaneous translation. Please note that 10% or more of those planning to attend will need to request this provision in order for it to be sourced and will be subject to resource availability.RegistrationWe apologise that the entire registration page is not available in the medium of Welsh, unfortunately, the platform we use does not offer this service.

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Lecture theatre 2 (room 0.01)
Tower Building
70 Park Place
CF10 3AT

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