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Volume 64 / Humanities

HISTORY: MEXICO: Colonial Period


PAULA DE VOS, Associate Professor of History, San Diego State University
KAREN MELVIN, Assistant Professor of History, Bates College

A REVIEW OF RECENT PUBLICATIONS in colonial Mexican history is best begun with a discussion of Eric Van Young's "Two Decades of Anglophone Historical Writing on Colonial Mexico," a wide- ranging historiography of Anglophone publications in the field over the past 20 years (item #bi2008002130#). According to Van Young, colonial Mexican history has been dominated in recent years by a turn toward cultural history, with a general move away from traditional economic history and hacienda studies in particular. We have found that the US and Latin American publications reviewed here reflect many of the trends that he discussed, though with some important exceptions. Many recent works, for example, address intellectual and cultural issues, with a spate of publications in history of science, a few works on literacy and book publishing, along with works on art and art history (see items #bi2007003738#, #bi2005004611#, #bi2005002433#, #bi2007000470#, and #bi2007004288#), and a continued strong interest in religious themes. In the realm of economics, we noticed what may be a resurgence of interest, but scholars are using new approaches, documents, and interpretations to revise traditional economic history. We noted a number of works spanning the late 18th and early 19th centuries, some of which bridge the colonial and national periods, and a continued interest in regional and local history, particularly in the "borderlands" regions of northern New Spain.

Mexican scholars have given much greater attention to the themes of science and medicine in recent years; of the number of works devoted to these topics, only two were by an Anglophone author. In particular, scholars have focused on histories of hospitals and charitable establishments, management of epidemics, and the use of indigenous therapeutics and curanderismo in colonial medicine (items #bi2007003722# and #bi2007000469#). Of note are a series of four publications by a team of scholars headed by María L. Rodríguez-Sala which has scoured the archives of Mexico City and Seville, Spain, to produce exhaustive and detailed biographical information on surgeons involved in both military and civil medicine throughout the entire colonial period (items #bi2007003736#, #bi2007003737#, #bi2007003735#, and #bi2007003731#). These reference works will be invaluable to scholars of the history of surgery and of medicine more generally. Also of note are publications in the history of pharmacy, particularly one in the series Biblioteca de Historia de la Farmacia directed by Patricia Aceves Pastrana and Alba Morales Cosme (item #bi2007003727#), a cooperative effort of educational institutions and chemical societies.

With regard to other themes of cultural and intellectual history, the greatest concentration of works concerned religion. Prominent within this genre are studies of male religious orders, especially Franciscans and Jesuits and their work in missions or doctrinas de indios (such as items #bi2007003744# and #bi2007003756#). Among these works, Hackel's study of Spanish-Indian relations in the Franciscan missions of alta California stands out for its richly detailed accounts of Indian life and its complex model of cultural interactions marked by conflict and destruction as well as strong native continuities (item #bi2006001728#). Several articles highlighted the importance of women in terms of devotional practices; their roles as beatas, mystics, and visionaries; and how those roles (or official interpretations of those roles) may have changed over time (items #bi2008002124#, #bi2005004674#, #bi2007003758#, #bi2005002664#, #bi2007003227#, #bi2008002129#). One work is notable for its innovative methodology: Arij Ouweneel's Flight of the Shepherd, which employs methods of microhistory and psychological theory to explain the actions of a Mexican cult leader in the 18th century (item #bi2007002666#). Scholars have also been making good use of Inquisition files to illuminate individuals' lives as well as broader social phenomenon, such as Villa- Flores' study of blasphemy across various social groups (item #bi2007002265#).

Turning to economic history, a significant concentration of works in this genre may prove to be an epilogue to Van Young's historiographical survey. Few of these works are in the vein of traditional economic history; in fact, several are self-consciously revisionist, using new techniques, such as New Institutional economic theory, and new types of documentation to shed light on old themes and revise traditionally accepted interpretations (see item #bi2007000367#). They are also almost exclusively Anglophone. Of particular note are two works: Jonathan Amith's The Mobius Strip and Jeremy Baskes' article "Colonial Institutions and Cross-Cultural Trade" (items #bi2007003773# and #bi2006002322#). Amith emphasizes that his work is a "spatial" history that traces the history of land use in colonial Guerrero by consciously making a dialectic of two trends in history that have hitherto often been considered in opposition: the use of structural analysis with that of cultural considerations of human agency. Baskes' article (related to his book on the subject) is able to use new economic theory along with extensive archival data concerning the production and sale of cochineal in colonial Oaxaca to substantially reinterpret the role of the repartimiento de bienes. Baskes finds that the repartimiento was actually a carefully calculated method of credit and risk management rather than a system designed to exploit indigenous producers. Two other works on haciendas, an article on the hacienda in tropical regions and the republication of Van Young's classic study on the Guadalajara region, indicate that this too may be an area of resurgence in the near future (items #bi2005002855# and #bi2007003723#). Also very useful is Altman's article, "Reconsidering the Center," which argues that a network of mid-size cities and towns developed early in the colonial period, thus complicating the assumptions about the absolute centrality of Mexico City in economic and political matters (item #bi2005000024#). Finally, Quiroz's study of meat prices in late colonial Mexico City stands out for the important implications for both economic and social history (item #bi2007003762#).

With respect to chronology, although all periods of time were well represented, the 18th century, and especially reform efforts during the second half of the century, has been an especially dynamic area of study. Topics covered include Mexico City's population and parishes, revolts, royal festivals, urban pious practice, and viceroys' efforts to modernize Mexico City. Courturier's biography of the Conde de Regla stands out as an example of biography that nicely illuminates 18th-century politics, economy, and society (item #bi2005004496#). Several publications also concerned the independence period, particularly the actions of Miguel de Hidalgo and his popular army (items #bi2007003714# and #bi2007003720#). Of note is Marco Landavazo Arias' extensively researched La Máscara de Fernando VII, which traces the allegiance given to Fernando VII, or "Fernandismo," through the decade of the wars of independence among both royalists and independence leaders (item #bi2007003715#). In addition, Karen Caplan's "The Legal Revolution in Town Politics" (item #bi2004001678#), Cynthia Radding's "Comunidades en conflicto" (item #bi2005004818#) and Michael Ducey's A Nation of Villages (item #bi2004003855#) are important follow ups to other works (such as Peter Guardino's Peasants, Politics, and the Formation of Mexico's National State: Guerrero, 1800–1857 (1996)) that seek to explain in concrete and detailed terms the effects of liberalism and nation-building on local town politics, particularly among indigenous communities. This bridging of traditional colonial-national periodizations, particularly through the theme of liberalism, can also be seen in Pamela Voekel's book on the changing nature of piety (item #bi2007003749#). Studies linking the precolonial and colonial periods are scarcer, but Velasco Godoy's investigation of the Valley of Ixtlahuaca is significant for its use of archeological and documentary evidence to demonstrate key transformations that came with the arrival of Spaniards (item #bi2007003763#).

With regard to geographic considerations, we noted a concentration of works on regions outside the colonial "core," with a particular emphasis on the northern regions of the viceroyalty. Books and articles addressed a variety of themes, including discussions of deathways in New Mexico (item #bi2005002693#), studies of patterns of governance and investment opportunities (items #bi2006002316# and #bi2007000142#), histories of Jesuit and Franciscan missions in the area (item #bi2007003724#), and documents concerning the Alarcón and Coronado expeditions (item #bi2007003779#, and items #bi2007001170# and #bi2007003070#, respectively). Of the works covering the region as it transformed from colony to nation, Resendez's study of identity in New Mexico and Texas stands out (item #bi2004003851#). Despite the variety of themes, such a concentration of works on the region may indicate a resurgence of interest in "borderlands" history, or at least a conscious turn from the usual emphasis on central Mexico. Regional and local histories also continue to flourish for other areas, especially the Yucatán, where there has been a small boom in studies of Franciscans and the Maya (items #bi2007000444#, #bi2005006672#, and #bi2007000577#).

Finally, the number of works on cities and urban histories has been particularly impressive, most of them emanating from scholars in Mexico. While regional cities are well-represented (see items #bi2007003747#, #bi2007003753#, and #bi2007003748#), Mexico City remains the center of attention. Deserving of special mention are a collections of essays on public spaces (item #bi2007003754#) and a useful catalog of documents in the Archivo General de la Nación relating to the physical composition of Mexico City (item #bi2007003755#).


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