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The Moral Electricity of Print
Transatlantic Education and the Lima Women's Circuit, 1876-1910

Author(s): Ronald Briggs

Best Nineteenth-Century Book Award Winner, 2018, Latin American Studies Association Nineteenth-Century Section

Moral electricity—a term coined by American transcendentalists in the 1850s to describe the force of nature that was literacy and education in shaping a greater society. This concept wasn't strictly an American idea, of course, and Ronald Briggs introduces us to one of the greatest examples of this power: the literary scene in Lima, Peru, in the nineteenth century.

As Briggs notes in the introduction to The Moral Electricity of Print, "the ideological glue that holds the American hemisphere together is a hope for the New World as a grand educational project combined with an anxiety about the baleful influence of a politically and morally decadent Old World that dominated literary output through its powerful publishing interests." The very nature of living as a writer and participating in the literary salons of Lima was, by definition, a revolutionary act that gave voice to the formerly colonized and now liberated people. In the actions of this literary community, as men and women worked toward the same educational goals, we see the birth of a truly independent Latin American literature.

Biography of Author(s)

Ronald Briggs is Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Cultures at Barnard College and author of Tropes of Enlightenment in the Age of Bolívar: Simón Rodríguez and the American Essay at Revolution (also published by Vanderbilt University Press).


  • "By emphasizing Lima and the connections that linked intellectuals based there to debates and processes in Europe and the US, Briggs makes a seminal contribution to expanding hemispheric American studies from a Latin American (and a Latin Americanist) perspective. He does so through an ambitious reading of a broad group of sources across the Americas, with bold interpretations, always linking back to the Lima group. The narrative is graceful, clear, and direct, all characteristic of Briggs's style."
    William Acree, author of Everyday Reading: Print Culture and Collective Identity in the Rio de la Plata, 1780-1910