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Volume 62 / Humanities

HISTORY: MEXICO: Colonial Period


DEBORAH KANTER, Chair and Associate Professor of History, Albion College
JUAN JAVIER PESCADOR, Associate Professor of History, Michigan State University

A DIVERSE RANGE OF TOPICS appears in the works published about colonial Mexico in recent years. A promising amount of scholarship combines subfields within the broad discipline of history to create works of interest, nuance, and utility to readers.

Studies on religion include some important works on shifting religious beliefs of indigenous and African people under Christianity. On the early missionary period, Jiménez Abollado discusses evangelical efforts in Tabasco (item #bi2004001463#). Sell has edited a highly useful volume on the Franciscan efforts to promote cofradías among the Nahuas (item #bi2003005024#). Sepúlveda's volume on the mid-16th century idolatry trials in the Mixteca Alta offers an intriguing contrast, suggesting the uneven path of early evangelical efforts (item #bi2002005634#). William B. Taylor's essays, focusing on specific devotions (the Cristo Renovado, Santiago Matamoros, and the Virgin of Guadalupe), provide a creative, magisterial analysis of the long-term outcomes of indigenous-Spanish interactions in the arena of religious beliefs, practices, and mechanisms of colonial power (item #bi2004002120#). Villa-Flores shows how Afro-Mexican slaves appropriated blasphemy as a way to protect their rights as Christians (item #bi2003006623#).

Advances in the study of gender, sexuality, and mentalités appear in several studies. Garza Carvajal's monograph on male homosexuality in early modern Spain and Mexico analyzes sodomy and, more broadly, masculinity (item #bi2006001703#). The study should be read by anyone interested in the gendered underpinnings of empire and colonial rule. Lipsett-Rivera offers a glimpse of popular understandings of the devil (item #bi2003003840#). In the realm of family history, García González's monograph on Zacatecas stands out as a comprehensive examination of household, family, and community (item #bi2003005041#).

Afro-Mexicans provide the focus for numerous studies, thus remedying, in part, a persistent weakness in colonial Mexican historiography. A cluster of important works shed light on slaves and Christianity in everyday life. Herman Bennett provides a major advance as he situates slaves' lives in connection with colonial institutions, especially the Church, and highlights the creolization of slaves (item #bi2003005030#). Landers, focusing on Africans and their descendants in Florida, similarly finds that Christianity proved essential to their integration (item #bi2004002098#). Villa-Flores and Proctor overlap somewhat in sources and theme. Proctor focuses on slaves' economic role in Mexico City textile production (item #bi2004001486#), while Villa-Flores shows how slaves, "tools with voice," used their voices and their status as Christians to challenge their marginalization and abuse (item #bi2003006623#). Other volumes published on Afro-Mexicans in this biennium offer little analysis and ignore prominent works on the African diaspora.

Ethnohistorical scholarship advances with several significant works with a religious focus (Sell; Sepúlveda; Taylor). Based largely on visual sources, Wood challenges standard views of conquest with her focus on indigenous interpretations of the Spanish conquest (item #bi2003005007#). Solís Robleda provides a solid examination of forced labor—and indigenous leaders' role in brokering labor for Spaniards—in the Yucatán (item #bi2004002104#). Sepúlveda's examination of idolatry in Yanhuitlán will also interest students of ethnohistory (item #bi2002005634#).

The efforts of regional institutions in Mexico have produced a spate of publications from specific regions, especially the Southeast and Guanajuato. Among several texts on Yucatán, Tabasco, and Chiapas, Ruz's edited volume on early colonial rule in Tabasco portrays in detail the lawlessness that dominated in a colonial fringe area (item #bi2003005015#). Jiménez Abollado's study of early missionary efforts in Tabasco offers a related view (item #bi2004001463#). Lara Valdéz considers Guanajuato's spaces and architecture (item #bi2004002115#); Reza Vázquez considers the city's public health initiatives in the same era (item #bi2004002122#). Another regional study of note is the collected essays on the Malinalco district, in the state of Mexico (item #bi2004002121#). The majority of regional works, however, offer little beyond a compendium of primary sources.

Scholarship on north Mexico yields a few notable studies. From the center north, García González examines the mining city of Zacatecas through the lens of family and household (item #bi2003005041#). Sheridan Prieto presents thoughtful work on the evolution of Coahuila (item #bi2002005708#). On the far northeast, Landers' work on slaves in Florida reveals a great deal about life in this periphery of the Spanish empire (item #bi2004002098#). Generally, the scholarly advances on the history of the North proved few and limited in scope.

Economic history published in this biennium shows few advances, yet a few strong case studies stand out. López Mora concentrates on a central Mexican flour mill over several generations, demonstrating the trade links between Bajío haciendas and Mexico City bakers (item #bi2004002131#). Likewise, González Gómez uses the Royal Factory dedicated to cigarette production, established in Querétaro, to show the linkages between different areas of production, paper, and tobacco (item #bi2003005011#). Proctor considers a wider area, Mexico City's textile workshops, to demonstrate the great importance of African slavery in this industry (item #bi2004001486#).

Studies of government and colonial institutions were numerous. On the establishment of colonial rule, Ruz provides a dramatic recreation of early Spanish malfeasance in Tabasco (item #bi2003005015#). On education, Gonzalbo's work thoughtfully summarizes educational plans for colonial subjects of all ethnicities and gender (item #bi2003005008#). Flores Clair focuses on the Colegio de Minería, proving how a single institution can reveal much about Mexican society beyond the school's walls (item #bi2002005716#). On the judicial system, Scardaville hones in the court scribe's tasks, thus exposing a great deal about justice in the colonial world (item #bi2004001221#). On the Bourbon state's promotion of public health, see Reza Vázquez's study of Guanajuato (item #bi2004002122#) and Kusior Carabaza's annotated documents from Saltillo (item #bi2004002132#).


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