Trading nations: architecture, informal empire, and the Scottish cast iron industry in Argentina
Juarez, Lucia Jimena
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Bridges, railways stations, warehouses, bandstands, fountains, shop fronts, lamps, gates and other cast-iron elements can still be found throughout Argentina. Some of these elements are impressive, others humble; some are abandoned, others are still in use. Many are part of important monuments; others are so incorporated into the urban landscape that they almost go unnoticed. When one’s attention is drawn to these features, however, a company nameplate and place of origin – ‘London’, Liverpool’, ‘Glasgow’ – is usually visible. These elements are so far from Argentina that their appearance begs several questions: why are most of the visible nameplates British? Are they the same as those found in London, Liverpool and Glasgow, or in former British colonies like India, South Africa or Australia? If so, why? Can we think of these elements as British imperial architecture in Argentina? In what context can their arrival in Argentina be understood? Who commissioned and designed them? Are there more Scottish nameplates than English, or any other? Does it matter? Did these elements act as models that were later copied or imitated by local manufacturers? Did they affect architecture and urban development in Argentina? If architecture reflects the view of a society, what do these elements reflect? Considering the wider context of British cast iron manufacturing, this dissertation asks what role Scotland’s burgeoning cast iron industry played in the export of British iron products to Argentina during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If in recent years historians have reconsidered the specific contributions of Scotland and its people to the growth and expansion of Great Britain as an imperial power, this dissertation takes this analysis into the realm of cast iron as an export industry. If British cast iron was ubiquitous throughout the developed world during this period, how do we begin to understand the Scottish cast iron industry as a major contributor to this trade? Here Argentina is used as a micro-study in an attempt to measure and understand that contribution. In addressing some of the above questions, the dissertation attempts to form a coherent analysis of the architectural, historic, cultural and economic dimensions of the phenomenon of Scottish architectural ironwork in Argentina. In so doing, the study hopes to shed light on larger questions concerning British ‘informal’ imperialism, considering exports of cast iron as a significant component in Britain’s attempts at economic leverage and coercion in Argentina during that country’s most dramatic period of development and urbanisation. The dissertation arrives at the conclusion that British cast-iron elements found in Argentina are the same or similar to elements found in Great Britain and its colonial empire because they arrived in Argentina through a process of commercial expansion that involved imperial trade routes, global networks, cooperation between British architects and engineers, as well as migration and the assistance of the pro-British elite in Argentina. It is argued that British iron in general, and Scottish in particular, contributed to the expansion of British power and influence in the region through helping shape the architectural and urban environments of Argentina. To reach this conclusion, the thesis is structured in three sections dealing with the three most significant aspects of the thesis: informal empire in Argentina, the iron trade, and Scottish cast-iron architecture in Argentina.