Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mirow on Latin American Constitutions, Part 1

Thank you for the warm welcome, Dan and Legal History Blog.  I am delighted to spend this month as a guest and, as requested, to tell you about my book Latin American Constitutions.

This is a photo of the Constitution Monument in St. Augustine, Florida, I took a couple of years ago.  The monument is in some ways responsible for the book.  It seemed so odd to me that in this small town in northern Florida there would be a relatively large obelisk dedicated to the Spanish Constitution of 1812, often called the Constitution of Cádiz, or, by its nickname, La Pepa. (It was promulgated on March 19, 1812, the Feast of San José.  Pepe is the nickname for José, and Pepa is the feminine form. Constitutions are feminine in Spanish.)  I could go on about the monument, but I won’t here because I have a piece coming out next year on it and its place in constitutional iconography.  Interested folks should take a look at the essays in Hensel, Bock, Dircksen and Thamer’s Constitutional Cultures: On the Concept and Representation of Constitutions in the Atlantic World (2012), Goodrich’s Legal Emblems and the Art of Law (2014), and Narváez’s Cultura Jurídica: Ideas e Imágenes (2010).   
The monument and the bicentennial of the Constitution led me to think first about the constitution itself and then what it was doing in Florida.  Alain Wijffels was instrumental in pointing me in this direction, and I explored these ideas during my 2009 sabbatical in Chile after my colleague Stanley Fish helped me define the topic and the direction it should take.  Because I had written a history of private law in Latin America, I wanted to see what I could do to explain the development of constitutional law in the region.  In 2010, when Austin Sarat asked me to contribute to a symposium on history and law, I made my first stab at understanding the Constitution in Visions of Cádiz.  This was followed by an article in 2012 on the promulgation of the Constitution in colonial Spanish Florida in 1812 and again in 1820, The Constitution of Cádiz in Florida.

While working on the Visions contribution in 2010, I sent a letter to Cambridge University Press to see if there was any interest in the project.  I haven’t looked at the letter in over five years, but this opportunity prompted me to see what I said.  I wrote then, “This book does two things.  First, it provides a general historical introduction to the major themes and issues in Latin American constitutionalism from just before independence to the present day.  Second, it uses the Constitution of Cádiz (1812) as the lens through which important issues and changes in Latin American constitutionalism are viewed.”  I am glad to see that this is about right, at least in my understanding of what I have written.  I look forward to sharing more about the book over the next few weeks.