Museography - Words That Changed Us: Language and Power in Independence


"Words That Changed Us: Language and Power in Independence" by Margarita Garrido, Ph.D., highlights one of the main achievements of Independence: the circulation of a set of ideas and a language through which the possibility of a social order different from the colonial one was installed in the social imagination. As the Spanish Empire faced a crisis and loyalty shifted from the king to Independence, it became necessary to define who would govern and how, to produce a new legitimacy, and for that, a distinct language was needed to articulate and understand the new republican political order being founded.

Terms such as rights, citizen, representation, sovereignty, freedom, equality, republic, elections, congress, and constitution were spoken, printed, and read in various public spaces, forming a distinct repertoire of concepts and words. These words existed and were used in colonial societies but had different meanings and, above all, did not constitute an interrelated and inseparable set.

Independence affected the ways of perceiving social order, that is, the place of groups and individuals in society and the forms of justice and authority. In this experience, words were very important: for the American inhabitants, having lived the process as a sovereign people, as patriots or royalists, marked the way they saw themselves, conceiving themselves as actors in the public sphere. Likewise, now calling themselves citizens and not vassals, thinking that they lived in a republic and not in a monarchy, governed by a constitution that defined rights for citizens and not privileges or charters for a few, allowed them to appreciate the world in a different way.

The colonial social classification between whites and castes, Indians, blacks, mestizos, and mulattoes suffered a great onslaught that left cracks through which the ideas of equality of citizens and new power relations made their way. The new language, with its alternative conceptions of the origin of power, legitimacy, government, citizenship, and justice, unsettled the dominant cultural conceptions and gave breath to different social relations and practices.

Words circulated in all kinds of printed material and were read and spoken by many. With them, Independence was made. Texts and images were produced and circulated in public spaces such as plazas, balconies, pulpits, streets, chicherías, shops, homes, and courts. To what extent did this language contribute to a new political culture in our countries? How did it combine with the colonial tradition and with the inherited social and ethnic inequalities? How did it change us?

Many of the issues addressed in the period are, of course with different emphases and in different forms, part of the current agenda of Hispanic American countries: political, social, and cultural rights, balances between the center and regions, the supremacy of the constitution, democracy, and freedoms.

Project name
Museography - Words That Changed Us: Language and Power in Independence
Bogotá | Colombia | Luis Angel Arango Library