Arciniegas, Germán (1900–1999)

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Arciniegas, Germán (1900–1999)

Germán Arciniegas (b. 6 December 1900, d. 29 November 1999), Colombian writer, diplomat, and political figure. Born in Bogotá of Basque descent, Germán Arciniegas became one of Latin America's most colorful and well-known writers. From an early age, he exhibited a talent for combining politics and journalism. In 1921, while attending the law faculty of the National University in Bogotá, he founded the journal Universidad, at which time he also attended a discussion group that included future Colombian reform leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. In 1924 Arciniegas received an appointment to the faculty of sociology and continued to write for several newspapers and reviews throughout the next decade. He was director of La revista de las Indias in 1938 and El Tiempo in 1939. Both positions brought Arciniegas into collaboration with Latin America's leading intellectuals.

In 1939 Arciniegas was appointed Colombian chargé d'affaires in Buenos Aires. It was an exciting time to be in that city, and while there Arciniegas met with and was influenced by the community of exiles from Spain, a distinguished group that included José Ortega y Gasset, Ramiro de Maetzu, Ramón Pérez de Ayala, and also with the Argentines Alfredo Palcios and Victoria Ocampo. Arciniegas was also influenced by the cultural elitism of José Enrique Rodó, and he corresponded with such intellectual figures as Stefan Zweig, Alfonso Reyes, and Gabriela Mistral.

Arciniegas was recalled to Colombia to serve as minister of education in 1941–1942, a position he held for a second time from 1945 to 1946. While in office he founded the Popular Library of Colombian Culture and a museum of colonial artifacts, both designed to enhance the public's awareness of Colombian history and culture. When domestic politics made it uncomfortable for Arciniegas to remain in Colombia, he relocated to the United States for a series of professorships at major universities: the University of Chicago (1942, 1944); the University of California at Berkeley (1945); and Columbia University (1943, 1948–1957).

In 1959 Arciniegas resumed his diplomatic career when he was named ambassador to Italy; the next year he was transferred to Israel, where he received an honorary degree from the University of Tel Aviv. He also became ambassador to Venezuela in 1967 and in the 1970s acted as Colombia's emissary to the Vatican. Arciniegas continued his editorial work throughout his life: he was the original force behind La Revista de América and subsequently donated his papers and books to the National Library in Bogotá.

Arciniegas has been a controversial figure, eliciting both praise and criticism. His hostility to Spain and the Conquest, coupled with his economic interpretation of history, have led many critics to condemn him as a spokesman for Moscow, but a closer reading reveals that Arciniegas's true vision of America was as a democratic continent free from the fanaticism of Europe. He glorified the nationalist and democratic spirit of America and praised the triple virtues of independence, democracy, and republicanism, an attitude that has appeared in the hundreds of books and articles he wrote during his lifetime. Among his most notable works are: Amerigo and the New World: The Life and Times of Amerigo Vespucci, translated by Harriet de Onís (1955); América es otra cosa: Antología y epílogo de Juan Gustavo (1992); Germans in the Conquest of America: A Sixteenth-Century Venture, translated by Angel Flores (1943); America in Europe: A History of the New World in Reverse, translated by Gabriela Arciniegas (1986); Biografía del Caribe (1945); Bolívar y la revolución (1984); and El caballero de El Dorado, vida del conquistador Jiménez de Queseda (Caracas, 1959).

See alsoLiterature: Spanish America .


Federico Córdova, Vida y obras de Germán Arciniegas (1950).

Pedro González Blanco, Against Arciniegas: A Blunt Criticism (1956).

Antonio Cacua Prada, Germán Arciniegas: Su vida contada por el mismo (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Pabón Pérez, Hugo Leonardo, Stella Lamprea, and Martha Sánchez. Bibliografía de y sobre Germán Arciniegas. Bogotá: Instituto Caro y Cuervo, 2001.

Tamayo Fernández, Martalucía. Germán Arciniegas: El hombre que naciócon el siglo: Una autobiografía escrita por otro. Bogotá, Colombia: Fundación Universidad Central, 1998.

                                    Karen Racine