Americas in the Revolutionary Era

Course No. 8617
Professor Marshall C. Eakin, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University
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Course No. 8617
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Course Overview

The revolution that created the United States was only one of many American revolutions. From 1776 to 1825, wars for independence erupted throughout the Americas—from Boston to Buenos Aires—creating 19 new nations. What common roots did these revolutionary movements share? What role did such events as the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the French Revolution play? How did the "radicalism" of the U.S. revolution affect other European colonies in the Western Hemisphere? How did Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion and occupation of Spain spark revolts across Spanish America?

The Americas in the Revolutionary Era answers these and many more important but often overlooked questions about the tumultuous political history of our part of the world. Professor Marshall C. Eakin explains the cultural, economic, and political pressures each of these new American nations faced in achieving independence. In addition, he examines—through the unique figures and situations present in each country—exactly why each revolution progressed as it did, succeeding or failing, its history written "in ink and in blood."

The Americas' "Other" Revolutions and Founding Fathers

Beginning with the revolution in our own 13 colonies, these lectures examine the uprisings and invasions that created the independent nation of Haiti in 1804; the wars for independence in Spanish South America; the bloody uprisings that led to Mexican independence; and the relatively bloodless revolt in Brazil. You will also consider "counterexamples," nations that failed to become independent or followed unusual patterns, such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, the British West Indies, and Paraguay.

This is also an opportunity to learn more about the "other" founding fathers of the Americas: Haiti's Toussaint L'Ouverture; Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar in Venezuela, Columbia, and Ecuador; José de San Martín in Argentina and Bernardo O'Higgins in Chile; and Agustín de Iturbide of Mexico.

The Individuals Who Shaped Our Hemisphere

Professor Marshall C. Eakin is ideally suited to lead this fascinating excursion across so many cultures. Originally a student of both anthropology and history before focusing on the latter, he has worked, lived, studied, and done research across all of Latin America since he was a high school student. As Professor Eakin points out, "structures and institutions matter, but history is made by individuals." The significant figures you will meet, whose stories are brought to life in episodes that are often as surprising as they are fascinating, include:

  • José Antonio Páez, the charismatic leader of the llaneros—the Venezuelan horsemen who first fought and then allied with Bolívar—who rode into battle accompanied by an immense African bodyguard who would protect and carry him during his frequent epileptic seizures.
  • The colorful Thomas Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald, the British naval mercenary whose key role in helping to win the independence of Brazil, Chile, and Peru included managing to steal the Peruvian flagship during an important battle.
  • José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, the authoritarian dictator who walled off Paraguay from the surrounding world for 30 years, spurning modernity at the same time as he achieved for his nation such self-sufficiency that today historians are reconsidering their once negative view of him.
  • André Rigaud, the mulatto son of a Haitian native and a French nobleman. Fiery, intellectual, and idealistic, he commanded troops on behalf of the colonists in the American Revolution. Yet he eventually developed a visceral hatred of whites, and would arrive in Haiti preaching the gospel of class and race genocide.

The Human Side of the Quest for Independence

Throughout these lectures, as Professor Eakin explores the forces that shaped each nation's path to independence, he never allows you to forget that these forces ultimately translate into the events of people's lives. He brings his perspective down to ground level, spanning oceans and mountain ranges to translate those forces into dramatic events, including:

A riveting portrait of life among the slaves of what was then known as Saint Domingue (later Haiti), including the conditions of their plight and the brutal Code Noir under which they lived. The Haitian revolt remains to this day the only successful slave rebellion in the hemisphere: the nightmare that white slaveholders had always feared.

A brilliant description of the chaotic evacuation of the Portuguese royal family and its entourage—10,000 people in all—as they fled to Brazil only an hour ahead of Napoleon's troops. They would rule the remains of their empire from Rio, which they would attempt to make, ironically, into a tropical version of Versailles.

The bold exploits of Simón Bolívar, including his remarkable and dramatic march from the tropics of eastern Venezuela through the 13,000-foot passes of the Andes to defeat the Spanish at Boyacá and liberate Colombia. Embittered late in life by his failure to foster true freedom or stable governments in five South American nations, Bolívar wrote that "he who serves a revolution, ploughs the sea."

The heroic resistance to Napoleon exhibited by the Spanish people—with some of our best documentation available in the paintings of Goya—including the tactics that gave the world the term "guerilla warfare."

This 24-lecture course is both grand drama and an absorbing intellectual exercise in comparative history. At the end of these lectures, you will have a detailed understanding of how our hemisphere took shape, and why.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Revolutions and Wars for Independence
    This lecture outlines the plan and logic of the course and puts forth its major themes, along with an explanation of the critical difference between the concepts of revolution and wars for independence. x
  • 2
    Origins of Revolution in the Atlantic World
    Important transformations have shaped the Atlantic world by the middle of the 18th century, including the Enlightenment, the revolution in commerce and trade, and the Industrial Revolution. x
  • 3
    Colonial Empires on the Eve of Revolution
    Professor Eakin surveys the dimensions and key characteristics of the large empires that Spain, Portugal, France, and England had established in the Americas by the middle of the 18th century. x
  • 4
    The "North" American Revolution Emerges
    After surveying the origins of the Thirteen Colonies, as well as their similarities and differences, Dr. Eakin traces the emergence of the colonies' unity and their movement toward independence. x
  • 5
    From Lexington and Concord to Yorktown
    Here we find a chronicle of the course of the fighting during our own U.S. revolution, from the action at Lexington and Concord to the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781. x
  • 6
    The Radicalism of the American Revolution
    Here we consider a debate that still rages after more than 200 years: Was the American Revolution really a radical break with a monarchial past, or did it represent a conservative effort by planters to seize power and control the development of an already divided society? x
  • 7
    Slave Rebellion in St. Domingue
    This is the first half of a two-part examination of the only successful slave rebellion in the Americas, including the impact of the American and French Revolutions, the two most important influences on Latin American revolutionaries after 1789. x
  • 8
    The Haitian Revolution
    Over more than a decade, Haiti's rebellious slaves, along with some free blacks, manage to defeat invading armies from France, England, and Spain, with implications that will continue to resonate throughout the Americas. x
  • 9
    Seeds of Rebellion in Spanish America
    By 1750, the Spanish Empire in the Americas has been in place for two-and-a-half centuries and is straining to survive. This lecture begins an examination of the wars for independence faced by Spain. x
  • 10
    Napoleon Invades Spain and Portugal
    Although modernization and reform have set the stage for the wars for independence, it is the Napoleonic Wars—especially Napoleon's invasion of Spain when he sparked rebellion by removing King Fernando VII from power in 1808—that trigger Spanish America's wars for independence. x
  • 11
    Francisco de Miranda—The Precursor
    This lecture introduces the most glamorous and dashing figure in the wars for independence, whose life and work foreshadow the generation of leaders who will lead those wars and who mentors the most famous of those liberators. x
  • 12
    Simon Bolivar—The Liberator
    Professor Eakin looks closely at the life of the most famous of Latin America's revolutionary figures, comparing and contrasting him as the "George Washington" of a half-dozen South American nations. x
  • 13
    Liberating Northern South America
    Bolivar overcomes a disastrous early failure and exile in the Caribbean to liberate Venezuela and the rest of northern South America in a bloody struggle that will consume more than a decade. x
  • 14
    San Martin and Argentine Independence
    The struggle for independence in Argentina and Uruguay revolves around the figure of José de San Mart'n, the southern South American counterpart of Bolivar. x
  • 15
    Bernardo O’Higgins and Chile
    The illegitimate son of the Irish-born former viceroy of Peru, who struggled to win the recognition denied him by his father, Bernardo O'Higgins emerges as the great military hero of Chilean independence. x
  • 16
    Liberating Peru
    The liberation of Peru, the great Spanish stronghold in South America, is accomplished from two directions, with Bolivar leading the attack from the north and San Martin from the south. x
  • 17
    Mexico—Race and Class Warfare
    Professor Eakin looks at the first of two stages in the war for Mexican independence—the race and class war that begins in 1810 and which is the ultimate nightmare of the Latin American elites. x
  • 18
    Mexico—Empire and Chaos
    In the aftermath of social revolution and racial war, Spaniards and Creoles close ranks to preserve peace, but events in Europe spark a second war for independence. x
  • 19
    Brazil—A Royal Revolution?
    The path to independence taken by Brazil, despite being similar in many ways, differs from that taking place in Spanish America in crucial respects. x
  • 20
    Failed Movements in the Caribbean
    Some American colonies, despite the successful wars for independence taking place around them, do not achieve independence in this era. This lecture looks at Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the troubled case of the Dominican Republic. x
  • 21
    The British West Indies and Canada
    Professor Eakin looks closely at the British West Indies and Canada, two more counterpoints to the successful wars of revolution and independence swirling around them. x
  • 22
    The Strange Case of Paraguay
    Perhaps the most unusual country in Latin America in the 19th century, Paraguay was led by the authoritarian José Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, who forced it to turn inward in isolation. x
  • 23
    Revolutions Made and Unmade
    Professor Eakin returns to the "big picture" of the age of revolutions, examining the processes at work and comparing the revolutions of the Americas. x
  • 24
    The Aftermath of Independence
    The course concludes with a wide-angle look at the Americas in the aftermath of the wars for independence, and reflect on the legacies left by these wars for the many peoples of the Americas. x

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Your professor

Marshall C. Eakin

About Your Professor

Marshall C. Eakin, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University
Dr. Marshall C. Eakin is Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, where he has taught since 1983. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Costa Rica and at the University of Kansas, where he also earned his master's degree. He earned his Ph.D. from UCLA. Before taking his position at Vanderbilt, he taught at Loyola Marymount University. He has won many teaching awards at Vanderbilt, including the...
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Americas in the Revolutionary Era is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 39.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply superb - riveting An excellent course in every way. The course introduction, in particular, was one of the best I've ever encountered among Great Courses. The professor explained the background of his approach, took us through the course contents with a big-picture overview and got the listener excited to learn. I appreciated his earnestness, as if the events he was narrating and analyzing really mattered. (As of course they do, since they shaped the Americas we have today.) I also liked his course conclusion, where he recapped some main themes and asked and answered questions about patterns (and non-patterns) in the events. Some highlights of the course for me were: * The three factors that created preconditions for revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries: the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution * Why revolutions were not inevitable, although they did happen * The influence of geography and trading restrictions on economic development * The contrast between the British tradition of parliamentary rule and the more absolutist monarchy in Spain and Portugal, and how that influenced events * Why the American and French revolutions had an impact on some regions and not others * Haiti serving as a warning to any colonies with a substantial slave population * Reasons for the differential racial makeup of different regions, and the outsized impact of that * Why the American South resembled South American colonies more than it did the American North * Paraguay as an outlier and reasons why it may not deserve the scorn many historians give it * Differing assessments by historians of which independence movements truly were revolutionary The only negative I felt about the lectures was the professor's strange verb tenses (present and future rather than past), which I found distracting all the way through the end of the course. But that was minor. Too bad this professor only made one other course for the company (which I already took, and it's excellent also), and it's way too bad that the company has no courses on contemporary Latin America or on Latin American culture.
Date published: 2020-10-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Neglected Topic but Lacking Good Storytelling I applaud TGC for offering this course and for Professor Eakin taking it on because it is a neglected one . Rarely do we see any content on Central and South America in the TGC catalog or elsewhere in academia. Professor Eakin's scope is spot on covering all of the major revolutions and the formation of over 20 countries. The revolutions of approximately 20 countries covering North, Central, and South America from the 1770s to the 1820s is covered. By my count here is the list: o United States o Haiti o Colombia o Ecuador o Venezuela o Argentina o Uruguay o Chile o Peru o Bolivia o Mexico o Guatemala o Nicaragua o Costa Rico o Honduras o El Salvador o Portugal o Cuba o Puerto Rico o Dominican Republic o Canada o Paraguay What this course lacks is pizazz. The professor's narration doesn't fully engage, does not put you in the historical moments themselves (like a great instructor can like Professor Desan in "Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon"), nor build up any kind of drama or storytelling. The exceptions would be lectures 10 (Napoleon’s attack on Portugal and Spain and its impact on their colonies in South America), 19 (Brazil), and 20 (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Dominican Republic). The rest were devoid of any kind of real storytelling. Battles are rarely described in any kind of detail, very little time is dedicated on the opposing forces except to call them “the Spanish armies” (who were some of the generals? Their strategic and tactical aims?), and the motivations/thoughts/words of the revolutionary heroes aren’t discussed much except that they wanted power. Another indication he isn't a good storyteller: the professor opens up most lectures by providing a summary of the major events he will be covering in that lecture. Talking about taking all of the suspense away in the first few minutes! Why not let the story play itself out while recounting the events? I know these are educational courses but TGC also bills them as "entertaining journeys"..... Unfortunately, the negatives don't end there. The pitch of the professor’s voice changes multiple times in the same sentence resulting in certain words coming through the audio way too strong while other words were too soft or trailed off. It wasn’t too long before the sharpness grated on me. Additionally, following some of the revolutions (such as the Haitian, Mexican, and Paraguayan revolutions) was very difficult: too many different sides with different goals, key leaders switching sides, and multiple foreign powers involved with ambiguous aims. Not a good job by Professor Eakin to clarify the madness and allow us to keep score. At times I wasn't sure what side he was even describing. Like his course "Conquest of the Americas", professor Eakin uses numerous lectures to serve as the course's conclusion depriving us of more historical narrative on the specific revolutions. While this time he only used two, he easily could've fit his conclusions in one lecture. Despite all of this I would still recommend this course. Primarily for two reasons: where else can you get info on these countries? And secondly: despite all the grief I gave him I actually like Professor Eakin. His organization is admirable and he does cover all the right things (he gets the scope right). A lot of professors lack these two talents!! He also gets you to think of the United States revolution in different terms: as a part of a larger story/theme playing itself out throughout all of the Americas. This story is not taught in traditional text books (at least when I was in school). It is thought provoking to look at the American Revolution as but one event in a fifty year period of revolution and upheaval in the western hemisphere. I also liked his analysis on why Latin America did not develop into a world power like the United States. While I prefer his other course ("Conquest of the Americas") more I am happy to have this one in my library as well. It may not keep me on the edge of my seat but it does fill a missing gap.
Date published: 2020-09-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Subject Matter that Needs More Courses The Great Courses offers a few courses on Latin America, most either pre-colonial civilizations or about the meeting of the colonizers with the indigenous tribes. If your looking for something post 1550's, this is your one choice (!!). I would love a course on the history of Mexico, or just one on the Mexican Revolution. Or even a course on the Latin American nations since World War II as they seek to develop either a democratic style government or rule with a military government. About this course- Professor Eakin is very well prepared and presents with a clear voice that is easy to understand and hear. He does speak a bit monotone, which makes him easy to tune out at times. He is very knowledgeable about his subject matter and tells some cracking good stories about these liberators. I did not know much about Francisco Miranda, for example, and was intrigued about the compelling life that he lived. That is one of the many people you will have a chance to learn about as Professor Eakin shows how the many countries in the region gained their independence, or in a few cases, did not gain independence. I did not enjoy the lectures early in the series about the independence of the United States. I get that Professor Eakin was showing how the movement for independence was a region wide event, spreading from the United States to other parts of the Americas, but the material he covered in these lectures was so well known and obvious, I had to drag myself through it. Once he got past talking about the U.S. independence movement, the course really picked up, as he showed how the spirit of independence could not be contained to the Yankees in the north. It's nice to have a chance to learn about these Latin American countries and see the process through which the gained their independence as well.
Date published: 2020-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Course I am surprised at how much I learned in this course. I was also surprised at how interesting the lives of some historical figures were, so much so that I am now reading a biography. Had they been European or American, everybody in the world would know about them. Professor Eakin is knowledgeable, focuses on what matters. His presentation skills are first rate.
Date published: 2020-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a fabulous course This is an amazing course that covers a ton of material in a way that manages to address both the common themes and the particularities of the various nations profiled. Like many Americans, I have very little sense of the history that has occurred south of the Rio Grande. This course has gone a very long way toward remedying that. And some of the characters profiled are absolutely fascinating. I kind of can't believe that they aren't better known.
Date published: 2018-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Liberty for Whom? This course is a rich feast for anyone who loves comparative history. Professor Eakin puts the American Revolution into its proper context as merely the first in a series of anti-colonial movements that ended European rule in most of the New World during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Those other movements, however, were anything but imitations of the American and differed from each other as well. The differences began with the colonial era. The 13 British colonies that later became the US were already far more liberal as to local self-rule and religion than their Latin American counterparts, because Britain itself was Europe’s most liberal great power with a strong parliament, limited monarchy, and some toleration for worship outside the official church. In the colonies, Britain practiced “salutary neglect” until 1763. France, Spain and Portugal, by contrast, had strong monarchies, legislative assemblies that were weak or non-existent and religious repression, so their colonies were likewise strongly top-down and conservative. There were at least three types of colonies: those populated mostly be settlers from the European homeland (northern British America, Chile), those representing a small white elite atop a large Indian majority and a mixed-race (mestizo) caste (Peru, Mexico, Central America, Venezuela and Colombia), and those with a small white elite and perhaps a white commoner class, a huge population of African slaves, and a mixed-race (mulatto) caste (Saint Domingue, Jamaica, Cuba). Southern British America, especially South Carolina, looked less like the northern colonies and more like the Caribbean. Independence movements broke out at various times and for various reasons. Mainland British colonists rebelled in 1775 because the Parliament in London ended its “salutary neglect” policy by trying to impose new taxes and assert its authority from 1763-74. Saint Domingue (soon to be Haiti) erupted in response to the French Revolution in 1789. Latin America remained formally loyal despite the resentments of native-born whites (creoles) against European-born officials (peninsulars) until Napoleon invaded Portugal and took over Spain in 1808. Political and social change varied greatly according to the social structure in each colony. The new United States, where white settlers held an overall majority, replaced monarchy with a republican government responsible to masses of white male voters. Northern states abolished slavery, but southern states protected and extended it westward, creating a divergence that led to civil war in 1861. The most radical case was Haiti, where a massive slave rebellion wiped out the white presence entirely, serving for the next two generations as a warning to plantation colonies elsewhere not to risk aspiring to independence. Cuba, for example, remained loyal to Spain until the 1890s. In much of South America creole elites who fought for independence did so against royalist Indians and mestizos as well as regular troops from Spain because both sides understood that the creoles intended in no way to share liberty or prosperity with the non-white masses. The result was postwar territorial fragmentation and dictatorship. Brazil achieved independence easily because it remained a monarchy under the Portuguese royal house with slavery kept intact. In the Caribbean Britain abolished slavery from above and kept its colonies until after World War II. Canada received self-rule as a gift in 1867 and remained loyal to the monarchy; no revolution was necessary. This course also shows off a fascinating cast of rebel characters. Americans will naturally know about George Washington and likely have heard of Simon Bolivar, but there are many others previously unknown to me, like Bernardo O’Higgins, the rebel leader in Chile, José Francia, who in Paraguay combined dictatorship with radical land reform and autarky, and José de San Martin, the liberator of Argentina and Peru. The most fascinating is Francisco de Miranda, the first great advocate of independence for Spanish America. He fought for Britain and Spain, met top politicians in the new US, toured and womanized throughout Europe, fought for the French revolution, and tried to interest the British in supporting rebellion in South America. On his own he led two small invasions of Venezuela and at the end of the second (1812) was betrayed into Spanish hands by Bolivar. In this lineup Washington, for all that he was a slaveholder, looks much the best. He ordered no atrocities as did Bolivar and Haitian leader Toussaint de L’Ouverture. He willingly gave up power twice and helped establish long-lasting precedents for the constitutional exercise of presidential power, unlike, for example, Bolivar, O’Higgins or the opportunistic Emperor Agustin de Iturbide and President Lopez de Santa Anna in Mexico. Only San Martin’s resignation and self-imposed exile after a mysterious 1822 meeting with Bolivar compares to Washington’s honorable conduct. I usually have at least one or two quibbles about Teaching Company courses, and here it’s two. Lecture 20’s description of events in Santo Domingo (the Spanish half of the island Haiti is on) seemed muddled. Lecture 5 would have been even better with a brief discussion of the famous proclamation by Lord Dunmore offering freedom to any slave who joined the British side; this policy was similar to French and Spanish alliances with rebel slaves and peasants in Haiti and South America. Otherwise, this course, now available only as an audio download, is an excellent learning experience and a real bargain.
Date published: 2017-12-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Evolution of US put in context... I very much enjoyed the content of these lectures, often opening my eyes to historical facts of which I had not been aware...particularly the role the Caribbean colonies/nations played in the establishment of the independent spirit of Britain's North American colonies. The lectures' organization, structure, style and pace was excellent, but Dr Eakin's presentation style sometimes lacked the enthusiasm I enjoy in lectures. The accounts of the struggles for independence in South America, pitting the likes of Bolivar, San Martin, Miranda and the ever-favorite O’Higgins against the Iberian Empires could easily have been presented in a more animated fashion. The exploits of San Martin's crossing of the Andes could be one of history's more famous military maneuver, rivaling Hannibal's crossing of the Alps. (BTW, San Martin crossing apparently occurred in December...the 'dead of winter'...which is, of course summertime in the southern hemisphere). I particularly enjoyed the last few lectures in which Dr Eakin compared the America's Revolutions...placing the US and Haiti as the most revolutionary in style and novelty, and Mexico as perhaps the least successful (omitting Paraguay because of that country's unique situation). Canada, and some of the British-held colonies/nations serve as a counterpoint to revolution, showing more of a peaceful evolution away from crown-rule to self-rule that could be interpreted as continuing to this day. Overall, a very good course that serves well as a prerequisite for any examination of early US history...particularly events leading up to, and including, the North American Revolution. Recommended...when offered on sale, with an additional 50% discount (I love that part).
Date published: 2017-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good overview of South American Independence The course surveys the processes of independence in the American continents. There is quite a wide spectrum of these: from the (only) successful slave uprising in Haiti, to Canada’s gradual, almost evolutionary gaining of independence from England. Through these stories of independence, starting with the American revolution of 1776 against Britain, Professor Eakin explains why many of the independent countries developed the way they did. Many fantastically famous South American liberators are surveyed, including Simon Bolivar, San Martin, and O’Higgins. I spent a lot of time backpacking in South America about twenty years ago, and these names were practically everywhere, so it was nice to finally get a comprehensive understanding of their contribution. The course provides a lot of insight on the reasons that the Latin American and North American countries developed so differently. Professor Eakin tells us that this is primarily because the North was influenced most strongly by England which had a relatively parliamentary government, and was involved in commerce – creating a more modern economy. The Spanish colonies were governed by the absolutist regime of the Spanish Monarchs, so they never developed the concepts of enlightenment natural rights in these territories as they did in the North. The Spanish and Portuguese monarchies were fading away during the 19th centuries, much with the help of Napoleon, so many of the wars of revolution that took place in Latin America were not as bloody and difficult as what the North Americans had to face against the British. The heart of the course is to go over the narrative of these processes, be they revolutionary wars or diplomatic contracts. Professor Eakin provides a lot of insight as to similarities and differences between these processes, as well as plotting down in some detail the stories of the great men involved. Overall this has been an interesting, primarily narrative account of the gaining of independence of the modern American nations – with most of the focus being on the South American countries. Professor Eakin’s presentation was interesting and insightful, though I did not find it particularly thrilling in any way. The course provided a lot of new knowledge for me and I’m glad I decided to hear it.
Date published: 2016-08-24
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