The Black River Plate
: race, history, and cultural memory in Uruguayan and Argentine fiction, 2001-2021

  • Jorge Sarasola Herrera

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


The aim of this thesis is to examine the contemporary rise in historical fiction about the Black past of the River Plate region. Unlike Latin American countries such as Mexico which envisioned racial mixture – mestizaje – as central to national identity, dominant discourses in Uruguay and Argentina fetichised European immigration and whiteness as the nations consolidated a version of national history and identity to present at the time of their Centenaries (Argentina 1910; Uruguay 1925 and 1930). Framed through the lens of memory studies, these contemporary novels are analysed against the backdrop of the Bicentenary celebrations in Argentina (2010) and Uruguay (2011), which acted as catalysts for a reconfiguration of this racial outlook through reinterpretations of the nations’ histories. The focus on the contemporary novel establishes the significance of a genre which has not yet received much attention within Afro-Platine literary studies. This dissertation also offers the first comparative exploration of Afro-centric fiction in these two republics. After a chapter devoted to theoretical and methodological issues, Chapter Two studies two novelists (de Mattos and Cucurto) who rewrite canonical works to subvert perceptions of the enslaved as passive and submissive, focusing instead on their agency to rebel. The texts selected in Chapter Three (Chagas and Moya) undermine a model of heroism characterised by unconditional loyalty to a white leader, presenting instead Afro-Platine heroes who question the national projects these leaders represent. In Chapter Four, Chagas and Platero contest a binary understanding of ethnicity by focusing on the often unclassifiable and fluid mixed-race heritage of these populations. Overall, these novels do not only write Afro-descendant characters into the histories of these nations. Instead, they posit a radical challenge to the ways inclusivity itself operates in Uruguayan and Argentine nationhood, redefining its parameters and demanding fresh frameworks to conceptualise race and ethnicity for the Bicentenary.
Date of Award30 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorGustavo San Roman (Supervisor) & Catherine Margaret O'Leary (Supervisor)


  • Historical novel
  • Afro-Latin America
  • Uruguayan literature
  • Argentine literature

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  • Full text embargoed until
  • 8 June 2027

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