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Volume 54 / Humanities


General and Colonial Period

ASUNCION LAVRIN, Professor of History, Howard University
EDITH B. COUTURIER, National Endowment for the Humanities

LOCAL HISTORY, HISTORICAL DEMOGRAPHY, and social and economic history provide the most engaging materials in Mexican historiography this biennium. The reorganization of local archives inspire academic interest in microhistory as well as popular local histories that fill the general readers' need for non-academic records of their past. The pre-1992 publication rush that called for sweeping reassessments of the past also yields a good number of historiographical essays, specialized bibliographies on notable historical figures, and reissues of significant historical works. These works represent solid scholarship and make historical sources more accessible to students at different levels of interest. The reissue of Zavala's studies on colonial labor (item bi 93002152) and of Gerhard's three volumes on Mexican historical geography (item bi 93022077) are excellent examples of this output. A series of documents on Hernán Cortés, culled from many sources, hold a special place of their own in the general historiography (item bi 93014197).

Worth noting as indexes to recent scholarship in topical history are the essays in the two-volume selection of works presented at the Conference of Mexican and Unites States Historians (8th, San Diego, 1990). It gathers 60 essays on a variety of topics and all students of Mexican history should consult it (item bi 94014612).

The opening of local archives and emphasis on local or regional studies continue to benefit mostly the history of the central core of Mexico and Yucatán, areas that attract the bulk of historiographical production. Since the late 1980s demography and the study of class or special groups within colonial society have displaced the study of landholding patterns and issues of economic productivity which characterized the 1960s and 70s. Demographic studies attempt to grasp the larger meaning of population changes, the connection between population movements, economic cycles, and regional economies. Important efforts in those directions are by Thomas Calvo for Guadalajara (item bi 93011693) and Garavaglia and Grosso for Tepeaca (item bi 92011492).

The essays included in David J. Robinson's book on Spanish American migration add significant nuances to topics related to that historical process: for instance, Rodney Watson offers a reinterpretation of indigenous migrations in Chiapas (item bi 92010638). The need to tie reliable demographic data to larger socioeconomic issues leads Ouweneel to delineate his own theoretical framework for future studies (item bi 91026628). Whether on a large or a local scale, demographic studies are taking an important lead in colonial historiography.

Economic and credit studies are enriched with solid monographs focused on the late 18th-century, relying on more easily quantifiable data than any other period. The sweeping view of Bourbon economic forces provided by Richard Garner is worth special attention as a useful grand synthesis of major trends in agriculture, mining, trade, and royal economic policies (item bi 93008612).

Social history continues to furnish the greatest variety of topical studies. The Seminar on the Study of Mentalities provides another volume of essays exploring the nature of sexual behavier in New Spain (item bi 93013977), broadening the boundaries of gender studies. Couturier's study of an aristocratic widow is the most substantive work on women's history (item bi 93003625), while the most intriguing is on colonial prostitution (item bi 94000505).

On ecclesiastical history, several essays on the Inquisition inject new material into this all-time favorite. Other studies introduce such new themes as the foundation of nunneries, episcopal administration, and popular colonial religious beliefs. Colonial elites and their role as power-yielders within local socety and as members of local institutons receive a good share of attention, especially for Michoacán, Yucatán and Veracruz. Important contributions in this aspect of social history are those by Juárez Nieto (item bi 93006707), Martínez Ortega (item bi 94014926), González Muñoz (item bi 93002171), and Jackie R. Booker (item bi 94014695). Himmerich Valencia takes us back to the first historical elite, the postconquest encomenderos, in a useful group profile (item bi 93014179).

Studies of indigenous communities, their stake in local interests, and their role in colonial society maintain their hold in the historiography of colonial Mexico as important counterbalances to studies on the elite. The internal politics of indigenous communities, an unusual monographic topic, is probed by Escobar Ohmstede in Los problemas de elección del cabildo indígena en Yahualica: 1787-1792 (item bi 93009143), but the more traditional topics such as tribute and labor continue to be sources for strong scholarly studies.

Land ownership patterns and hacienda studies, much reduced in scale since the 1970s, are represented here with several important regional works proposing reinterpretations of postulated trends. For Puebla, see Rik Hoekstra's views in Profit from the wastelands (item bi 93003659) and for Yucatán, see García Bernal's erudite essays on 17th-century hacienda formation and cattle ranching which add new dimensions to the study of indigenous communities (items bi 94014917 and bi 93004597).
The Bourbon reforms and the independence period are represented by Jiménez Codinach's solid analysis of Mexican and British relations (item bi 94015668) and by several specialized essays on counterrevolution and international espionage. [AL]

In the works annotated for this biennium, the field of northern history appears to have reached a new stage in sophistication and quality of work. The historical outline of northern New Spain is beginning to incorporate some of the economic and social complexities gleaned during the last 40 years from research on the central and southern regions. Outstanding among the books is Weber's volume (item bi 93019717), both for the combination of extensive original research and interpretation. As in the case of many articles annotated for this section, the book is notable for its incorporation of new viewpoints on the Indians and their relationship to newcomers. While focused on the north, Weber's discussion of the general issues surrounding the colonization process provides new insights for colonial Mexican history.

Among the shorter works annotated here, literature on the missions has produced the largest number of works of special note. Representative of these works are studies of three scholars with very different points of view: Robert Jackson (item bi 92009753), Cynthia Radding (item bi 93011698), and Susan Deeds (item bi 92009922). The substantial work of Jean Meyer is also to be noted (item bi 92009922). José Cuello's study of slavery and encomienda (item bi 91006989) joins other works on labor, often subsumed under the discussions of the missions.

Social and economic studies of mining have inspired much research. Michael Swann focuses on varieties of population patterns (item bi 92010630); Cramaussel illuminates an important question on the forms of mining reales, helping us to understand the differences between their appearances and those based on conventional plans executed for other towns and cities (item bi 93011697); and Peter Bakewell contributes to the continuing debate on economic growth as related to silver production (item bi 93008767). The history of Zacatecas has inspired a number of important works; especially notable among these are two works by Frédérique Langue (items bi 92002499 and bi 92010100).

Work inspired by regional congresses addressing the differences within the northern regions has been reflected in many contributions for the period covered here; because of space considerations, many of these works have not been annotated, but the general high quality of the research is notable. Among many other serious studies of land tenure - noting the wide variety in colonial economic organization - mention should be made of Salvador Alvarez (item bi 93010343). Finally, the decline in the number of meritorious works on the northern regions noted four years ago seems to have been definitively reversed for the 1990s with the appearance of many significant works based on extensive research in primary sources. [EBC]

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