The Culture History of a Puerto Rican Sugar Cane Plantation 1876-1949

by Sidney W. Mintz

This article is only available as a pdf download on Duke University Press

The present article is an attempt to combine the analysis of historical documents with the use of data from aged informants for purposes of historical reconstruction. The subject is the changing way of life of the people living in a community on the south coast of Puerto Rico; the aim, to show the relationship of social forms to the prevailing agricultural system. Field work in a south-coast community in 1948-1949 provided first-hand materials for describing the present system.’ Materials used for purposes of historical reconstruction proved to be incomplete, necessitating frequent inferences in making the reconstruction A collateral source for checking was provided by the reminiscences of ten chief informants of advanced age.

Because of the doubtful reliability of both local historical documents and the reminiscences of aged persons, the anthropologist who would project his data backward in time when studying modern communities leaves himself open to serious criticism. The writer feels, however, that the disadvantages should not rule out this kind of attempt at historical reconstruction. It would seem that the bias against such reconstructions which still persists in anthropology often leads to an underestimation of the role the past plays in shaping the present. While the subsequent interpretation may be found incomplete or inaccurate in part, the writer hopes that comment and criticism will take in more than specific errata in order to consider the broader implications of the value of such reconstructions for comprehensive culture history.

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