Historiographic Essay Definition In Spanish

Historiography is the study of the methods of historians in developing history as an academic discipline, and by extension is any body of historical work on a particular subject. The historiography of a specific topic covers how historians have studied that topic using particular sources, techniques, and theoretical approaches. Scholars discuss historiography by topic – such as the "historiography of the United Kingdom", the "historiography of Canada", "historiography of the British Empire", the "historiography of early Islam", the "historiography of China" – and different approaches and genres, such as political history and social history. Beginning in the nineteenth century, with the ascent of academic history, there developed a body of historiographic literature. The extent to which historians are influenced by their own groups and loyalties – such as to their nation state – is a debated question.[1]

The research interests of historians change over time, and there has been a shift away from traditional diplomatic, economic, and political history toward newer approaches, especially social and cultural studies. From 1975 to 1995, the proportion of professors of history in American universities identifying with social history increased from 31 to 41 percent, while the proportion of political historians decreased from 40 to 30 percent.[2] In 2007, of 5,723 faculty in the departments of history at British universities, 1,644 (29%) identified themselves with social history and 1,425 (25%) identified themselves with political history.[3]


In the early modern period, the term historiography meant "the writing of history", and historiographer meant "historian". In that sense certain official historians were given the title "Historiographer Royal" in Sweden (from 1618), England (from 1660), and Scotland (from 1681). The Scottish post is still in existence.

Historiography was more recently defined as "the study of the way history has been and is written – the history of historical writing", which means that, "When you study 'historiography' you do not study the events of the past directly, but the changing interpretations of those events in the works of individual historians."[4]


Further information: Ancient history

Understanding the past appears to be a universal human need, and the "telling of history" has emerged independently in civilisations around the world.[weasel words] What constitutes history is a philosophical question (see philosophy of history).[weasel words]

The earliest chronologies date back to Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, though no historical writers in these early civilizations were known by name. By contrast, the term "historiography" is taken to refer to written history recorded in a narrative format for the purpose of informing future generations about events. In this limited sense, "ancient history" begins with the early historiography of Classical Antiquity, in about the 5th century BCE.

East Asia[edit]

Ancient China[edit]

Main articles: Chinese historiography and Twenty-Four Histories

Further information: Chinese literature

In China, the Zuo Zhuan, attributed to Zuo Qiuming in the 5th century BCE, is the earliest written of narrative history in the world and covers the period from 722 to 468 BCE.[5] The Classic of History is one of the Five Classics of Chinese classic texts and one of the earliest narratives of China. The Spring and Autumn Annals, the official chronicle of the State of Lu covering the period from 722 to 481 BCE, is among the earliest surviving historical texts to be arranged on annalistic principles in the world. It is traditionally attributed to Confucius (551–479 BCE). Zhan Guo Ce was a renowned ancient Chinese historical compilation of sporadic materials on the Warring States period compiled between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE.[6]

Sima Qian (around 100 BCE) was the first in China to lay the groundwork for professional historical writing. His written work was the Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian), a monumental lifelong achievement in literature. Its scope extends as far back as the 16th century BCE, and it includes many treatises on specific subjects and individual biographies of prominent people, and also explores the lives and deeds of commoners, both contemporary and those of previous eras. His work influenced every subsequent author of history in China, including the prestigious Ban family of the Eastern Han Dynasty era.[7]

Traditional Chinese historiography describes history in terms of dynastic cycles. In this view, each new dynasty is founded by a morally righteous founder. Over time, the dynasty becomes morally corrupt and dissolute. Eventually, the dynasty becomes so weak as to allow its replacement by a new dynasty.[8]


Main article: Historiography of Korea

Further information: Korean literature

The tradition of Korean historiography was established with the Samguk Sagi, a history of Korea from its allegedly earliest times. It was compiled by Goryeo court historian Kim Busik after its commission by King Injong of Goryeo (r. 1122 - 1146). It was completed in 1145 and relied not only on earlier Chinese histories for source material, but also on the Hwarang Segi written by the Silla historian Kim Daemun in the 8th century. The latter work is now lost.[9]


Main article: Historiography of Japan

Further information: Japanese literature

The earliest works of history produced in Japan were the Rikkokushi, a corpus of six national histories covering the history of Japan from its mythological beginnings until the 9th century. The first of these works were the Nihon Shoki, compiled by Prince Toneri in 720.

Hellenic world[edit]

Main article: Greek historiography

Further information: Ancient Greek literature

The earliest known systematic historical thought emerged in ancient Greece, a development which would be an important influence on the writing of history elsewhere around the Mediterranean region. Greek historians greatly contributed to the development of historical methodology. The earliest known critical historical works were The Histories, composed by Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484–425 BCE) who became known as the "father of history".[10] Herodotus attempted to distinguish between more and less reliable accounts, and personally conducted research by travelling extensively, giving written accounts of various Mediterranean cultures. Although Herodotus' overall emphasis lay on the actions and characters of men, he also attributed an important role to divinity in the determination of historical events.

The generation following Herodotus witnessed a spate of local histories of the individual city-states (poleis), written by the first of the local historians who employed the written archives of city and sanctuary. Dionysius of Halicarnassus characterized these historians as the forerunners of Thucydides,[11] and these local histories continued to be written into Late Antiquity, as long as the city-states survived. Two early figures stand out: Hippias of Elis, who produced the lists of winners in the Olympic Games that provided the basic chronological framework as long as the pagan classical tradition lasted, and Hellanicus of Lesbos, who compiled more than two dozen histories from civic records, all of them now lost.

Thucydides largely eliminated divine causality in his account of the war between Athens and Sparta, establishing a rationalistic element which set a precedent for subsequent Western historical writings. He was also the first to distinguish between cause and immediate origins of an event, while his successor Xenophon (c. 431 – 355 BCE) introduced autobiographical elements and character studies in his Anabasis.

The proverbial Philippic attacks of the Athenian orator Demosthenes (384–322 BCE) on Philip II of Macedon marked the height of ancient political agitation. The now lost history of Alexander's campaigns by the diadochPtolemy I (367–283 BCE) may represent the first historical work composed by a ruler. Polybius (c. 203 – 120 BCE) wrote on the rise of Rome to world prominence, and attempted to harmonize the Greek and Roman points of view.

The Chaldean priest Berossus (fl. 3rd century BCE) composed a Greek-language History of Babylonia for the Seleucid king Antiochus I, combining Hellenistic methods of historiography and Mesopotamian accounts to form a unique composite. Reports exist of other near-eastern histories, such as that of the Phoenician historian Sanchuniathon; but he is considered semi-legendary and writings attributed to him are fragmentary, known only through the later historians Philo of Byblos and Eusebius, who asserted that he wrote before even the Trojan war.

Roman world[edit]

Main article: Roman historiography

Further information: Latin literature

The Romans adopted the Greek tradition, writing at first in Greek, but eventually chronicling their history in a freshly non-Greek language. While early Roman works were still written in Greek, the Origines, composed by the Roman statesman Cato the Elder (234–149 BCE), was written in Latin, in a conscious effort to counteract Greek cultural influence. It marked the beginning of Latin historical writings. Hailed for its lucid style, Julius Caesar's (100–44 BCE) de Bello Gallico exemplifies autobiographical war coverage. The politician and orator Cicero (106–43 BCE) introduced rhetorical elements in his political writings.

Strabo (63 BCE – c. 24 CE) was an important exponent of the Greco-Roman tradition of combining geography with history, presenting a descriptive history of peoples and places known to his era. Livy (59 BCE – 17 CE) records the rise of Rome from city-state to empire. His speculation about what would have happened if Alexander the Great had marched against Rome represents the first known instance of alternate history.[12]

Biography, although popular throughout antiquity, was introduced as a branch of history by the works of Plutarch (c. 46 – 127 CE) and Suetonius (c. 69 – after 130 CE) who described the deeds and characters of ancient personalities, stressing their human side. Tacitus (c. 56 – c. 117 CE) denounces Roman immorality by praising German virtues, elaborating on the topos of the Noble savage.

Middle Ages to Renaissance[edit]

Main article: Historiography of the Middle Ages


See also: Christendom, Hagiography, Medieval literature, and Ethiopian historiography

Christian historiography began early, perhaps as early as Luke-Acts, which is the primary source for the Apostolic Age, though its historical reliability is disputed. In the first Christian centuries, the New Testament canon was developed. The growth of Christianity and its enhanced status in the Roman Empire after Constantine I (see State church of the Roman Empire) led to the development of a distinct Christian historiography, influenced by both Christian theology and the nature of the Christian Bible, encompassing new areas of study and views of history. The central role of the Bible in Christianity is reflected in the preference of Christian historians for written sources, compared to the classical historians' preference for oral sources and is also reflected in the inclusion of politically unimportant people. Christian historians also focused on development of religion and society. This can be seen in the extensive inclusion of written sources in the Ecclesiastical History written by Eusebius of Caesarea around 324 and in the subjects it covers.[13] Christian theology considered time as linear, progressing according to divine plan. As God's plan encompassed everyone, Christian histories in this period had a universal approach. For example, Christian writers often included summaries of important historical events prior to the period covered by the work.[14]

Writing history was popular among Christian monks and clergy in the Middle Ages. They wrote about the history of Jesus Christ, that of the Church and that of their patrons, the dynastic history of the local rulers. In the Early Middle Ages historical writing often took the form of annals or chronicles recording events year by year, but this style tended to hamper the analysis of events and causes.[15] An example of this type of writing is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was the work of several different writers: it was started during the reign of Alfred the Great in the late 9th century, but one copy was still being updated in 1154. Some writers in the period did construct a more narrative form of history. These included Gregory of Tours and more successfully Bede, who wrote both secular and ecclesiastical history and who is known for writing the Ecclesiastical History of the English People.[13]

During the Renaissance, history was written about states or nations. The study of history changed during the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Voltaire described the history of certain ages that he considered important, rather than describing events in chronological order. History became an independent discipline. It was not called philosophia historiae anymore, but merely history (historia).

Islamic world[edit]

See also: Historiography of early Islam, Muqaddimah, and Muslim historians

Muslim historical writings first began to develop in the 7th century, with the reconstruction of the Prophet Muhammad's life in the centuries following his death. With numerous conflicting narratives regarding Muhammad and his companions from various sources, it was necessary to verify which sources were more reliable. In order to evaluate these sources, various methodologies were developed, such as the "science of biography", "science of hadith" and "Isnad" (chain of transmission). These methodologies were later applied to other historical figures in the Islamic civilization. Famous historians in this tradition include Urwah (d. 712), Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 728), Ibn Ishaq (d. 761), al-Waqidi (745–822), Ibn Hisham (d. 834), Muhammad al-Bukhari (810–870) and Ibn Hajar (1372–1449).[16] Historians of the medieval Islamic world also developed an interest in world history.[17] Islamic historical writing eventually culminated in the works of the Arab Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406), who published his historiographical studies in the Muqaddimah (translated as Prolegomena) and Kitab al-I'bar (Book of Advice).[18][19] His work was forgotten until it was rediscovered in the late 19th century.[20]


During the Age of Enlightenment, the modern development of historiography through the application of scrupulous methods began.


French philosopheVoltaire (1694–1778) had an enormous influence on the development of historiography during the Age of Enlightenment through his demonstration of fresh new ways to look at the past. Guillaume de Syon argues:

Voltaire recast historiography in both factual and analytical terms. Not only did he reject traditional biographies and accounts that claim the work of supernatural forces, but he went so far as to suggest that earlier historiography was rife with falsified evidence and required new investigations at the source. Such an outlook was not unique in that the scientific spirit that 18th-century intellectuals perceived themselves as invested with. A rationalistic approach was key to rewriting history.[21]

Voltaire's best-known histories are The Age of Louis XIV (1751), and his Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of the Nations (1756). He broke from the tradition of narrating diplomatic and military events, and emphasized customs, social history and achievements in the arts and sciences. He was the first scholar to make a serious attempt to write the history of the world, eliminating theological frameworks, and emphasizing economics, culture and political history. Although he repeatedly warned against political bias on the part of the historian, he did not miss many opportunities to expose the intolerance and frauds of the church over the ages. Voltaire advised scholars that anything contradicting the normal course of nature was not to be believed. Although he found evil in the historical record, he fervently believed reason and educating the illiterate masses would lead to progress.

Voltaire explains his view of historiography in his article on "History" in Diderot's Encyclopédie: "One demands of modern historians more details, better ascertained facts, precise dates, more attention to customs, laws, mores, commerce, finance, agriculture, population." Already in 1739 he had written: "My chief object is not political or military history, it is the history of the arts, of commerce, of civilization – in a word, – of the human mind."[22] Voltaire's histories used the values of the Enlightenment to evaluate the past. He helped free historiography from antiquarianism, Eurocentrism, religious intolerance and a concentration on great men, diplomacy, and warfare.[23]Peter Gay says Voltaire wrote "very good history", citing his "scrupulous concern for truths", "careful sifting of evidence", "intelligent selection of what is important", "keen sense of drama", and "grasp of the fact that a whole civilization is a unit of study."[24][25]

David Hume[edit]

At the same time, philosopher David Hume was having a similar effect on the study of history in Great Britain. In 1754 he published the History of England, a 6-volume work which extended "From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688". Hume adopted a similar scope to Voltaire in his history; as well as the history of Kings, Parliaments, and armies, he examined the history of culture, including literature and science, as well. His short biographies of leading scientists explored the process of scientific change and he developed new ways of seeing scientists in the context of their times by looking at how they interacted with society and each other – he paid special attention to Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and William Harvey.[26]

He also argued that the quest for liberty was the highest standard for judging the past, and concluded that after considerable fluctuation, England at the time of his writing had achieved "the most entire system of liberty, that was ever known amongst mankind."[27]

Edward Gibbon[edit]

The apex of Enlightenment history was reached with Edward Gibbon's monumental six-volume work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published on 17 February 1776. Because of its relative objectivity and heavy use of primary sources, its methodology became a model for later historians. This has led to Gibbon being called the first "modern historian".[28] The book sold impressively, earning its author a total of about £9000. Biographer Leslie Stephen wrote that thereafter, "His fame was as rapid as it has been lasting."

Gibbon's work has been praised for its style, its piquant epigrams and its effective irony. Winston Churchill memorably noted, "I set out upon...Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [and] was immediately dominated both by the story and the style.... I devoured Gibbon. I rode triumphantly through it from end to end and enjoyed it all."[29] Gibbon was pivotal in the secularizing and 'desanctifying' of history, remarking, for example, on the "want of truth and common sense" of biographies composed by Saint Jerome.[30] Unusually for an 18th-century historian, Gibbon was never content with secondhand accounts when the primary sources were accessible (though most of these were drawn from well-known printed editions). "I have always endeavoured," he says, "to draw from the fountain-head; that my curiosity, as well as a sense of duty, has always urged me to study the originals; and that, if they have sometimes eluded my search, I have carefully marked the secondary evidence, on whose faith a passage or a fact were reduced to depend."[31] In this insistence upon the importance of primary sources, Gibbon broke new ground in the methodical study of history:

In accuracy, thoroughness, lucidity, and comprehensive grasp of a vast subject, the 'History' is unsurpassable. It is the one English history which may be regarded as definitive.... Whatever its shortcomings the book is artistically imposing as well as historically unimpeachable as a vast panorama of a great period.[32]

19th century[edit]

The tumultuous events surrounding the French Revolution inspired much of the historiography and analysis of the early 19th century. Interest in the 1688 Glorious Revolution was also rekindled by the Great Reform Act of 1832 in England.

Thomas Carlyle[edit]

Thomas Carlyle published his three-volume The French Revolution: A History, in 1837. The first volume was accidentally burned by John Stuart Mill's maid. Carlyle rewrote it from scratch.[33] Carlyle's style of historical writing stressed the immediacy of action, often using the present tense. He emphasised the role of forces of the spirit in history and thought that chaotic events demanded what he called 'heroes' to take control over the competing forces erupting within society. He considered the dynamic forces of history as being the hopes and aspirations of people that took the form of ideas, and were often ossified into ideologies. Carlyle's The French Revolution was written in a highly unorthodox style, far removed from the neutral and detached tone of the tradition of Gibbon. Carlyle presented the history as dramatic events unfolding in the present as though he and the reader were participants on the streets of Paris at the famous events. Carlyle's invented style was epic poetry combined with philosophical treatise. It is rarely read or cited in the last century.[34][35]

French historians: Michelet and Taine[edit]

In his main work Histoire de France (1855), French historian Jules Michelet (1798-1874) coined the term Renaissance (meaning "rebirth" in French), as a period in Europe's cultural history that represented a break from the Middle Ages, creating a modern understanding of humanity and its place in the world.[36] The 19-volume work covered French history from Charlemagne to the outbreak of the French Revolution. His inquiry into manuscript and printed authorities was most laborious, but his lively imagination, and his strong religious and political prejudices, made him regard all things from a singularly personal point of view.[37]

Michelet was one of the first historians to shift the emphasis of history to the common people, rather than the leaders and institutions of the country. He had a decisive impact on scholars. Gayana Jurkevich argues that led by Michelet:

19th-century French historians no longer saw history as the chronicling of royal dynasties, armies, treaties, and great men of state, but as the history of ordinary French people and the landscape of France.[38]

Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893), although unable to secure an academic position, was the chief theoretical influence of French naturalism, a major proponent of sociological positivism, and one of the first practitioners of historicist criticism. He pioneered the idea of "the milieu" as an active historical force which amalgamated geographical, psychological, and social factors. Historical writing for him was a search for general laws. His brilliant style kept his writing in circulation long after his theoretical approaches were passé.[39]

Cultural and constitutional history[edit]

One of the major progenitors of the history of culture and art, was the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt[40]Siegfried Giedion described Burckhardt's achievement in the following terms: "The great discoverer of the age of the Renaissance, he first showed how a period should be treated in its entirety, with regard not only for its painting, sculpture and architecture, but for the social institutions of its daily life as well."[41] Burckhardt's best known work is The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860).

His most famous work was The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, published in 1860; it was the most influential interpretation of the Italian Renaissance in the nineteenth century and is still widely read. According to John Lukacs, he was the first master of cultural history, which seeks to describe the spirit and the forms of expression of a particular age, a particular people, or a particular place. His innovative approach to historical research stressed the importance of art and its inestimable value as a primary source for the study of history. He was one of the first historians to rise above the narrow nineteenth-century notion that "history is past politics and politics current history.[42]

By the mid-19th century, scholars were beginning to analyse the history of institutional change, particularly the development of constitutional government. William Stubbs's Constitutional History of England (3 vols., 1874–78) was an important influence on this developing field. The work traced the development of the English constitution from the Teutonic invasions of Britain until 1485, and marked a distinct step in the advance of English historical learning.[43] He argued that the theory of the unity and continuity of history should not remove distinctions between ancient and modern history. He believed that, though work on ancient history is a useful preparation for the study of modern history, either may advantageously be studied apart. He was a good palaeographer, and excelled in textual criticism, in examination of authorship, and other such matters, while his vast erudition and retentive memory made him second to none in interpretation and exposition.[44]

Von Ranke and professionalization in Germany[edit]

Main article: Historiography of Germany

The modern academic study of history and methods of historiography were pioneered in 19th-century German universities, especially the University of Göttingen. Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886) at Berlin was a pivotal influence in this regard, and was the founder of modern source-based history.[45][46] According to Caroline Hoefferle, "Ranke was probably the most important historian to shape historical profession as it emerged in Europe and the United States in the late 19th century."[47][48]

Specifically, he implemented the seminar teaching method in his classroom, and focused on archival research and analysis of historical documents. Beginning with his first book in 1824, the History of the Latin and Teutonic Peoples from 1494 to 1514, Ranke used an unusually wide variety of sources for a historian of the age, including "memoirs, diaries, personal and formal missives, government documents, diplomatic dispatches and first-hand accounts of eye-witnesses". Over a career that spanned much of the century, Ranke set the standards for much of later historical writing, introducing such ideas as reliance on primary sources, an emphasis on narrative history and especially international politics (aussenpolitik).[49] Sources had to be solid, not speculations and rationalizations. His credo was to write history the way it was. He insisted on primary sources with proven authenticity.

Ranke also rejected the 'teleological approach' to history, which traditionally viewed each period as inferior to the period which follows. In Ranke's view, the historian had to understand a period on its own terms, and seek to find only the general ideas which animated every period of history. In 1831 and at the behest of the Prussian government, Ranke founded and edited the first historical journal in the world, called Historisch-Politische Zeitschrift.

Another important German thinker was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, whose theory of historical progress ran counter to Ranke's approach. In Hegel's own words, his philosophical theory of "World history... represents the development of the spirit's consciousness of its own freedom and of the consequent realization of this freedom.".[50] This realization is seen by studying the various cultures that have developed over the millennia, and trying to understand the way that freedom has worked itself out through them:

World history is the record of the spirit's efforts to attain knowledge of what it is in itself. The Orientals do not know that the spirit or man as such are free in themselves. And because they do not know that, they are not themselves free. They only know that One is free.... The consciousness of freedom first awoke among the Greeks, and they were accordingly free; but, like the Romans, they only knew that Some, and not all men as such, are free.... The Germanic nations, with the rise of Christianity, were the first to realize that All men are by nature free, and that freedom of spirit is his very essence.[51]

Karl Marx introduced the concept of historical materialism into the study of world historical development. In his conception, the economic conditions and dominant modes of production determined the structure of society at that point. In his view five successive stages in the development of material conditions would occur in Western Europe. The first stage was primitive communism where property was shared and there was no concept of "leadership". This progressed to a slave society where the idea of class emerged and the State developed. Feudalism was characterized by an aristocracy working in partnership with a theocracy and the emergence of the Nation-state. Capitalism appeared after the bourgeois revolution when the capitalists (or their merchant predecessors) overthrew the feudal system and established a market economy, with private property and Parliamentary democracy. Marx then predicted the eventual proletarian revolution that would result in the attainment of socialism, followed by Communism, where property would be communally owned.

Previous historians had focused on cyclical events of the rise and decline of rulers and nations. Process of nationalization of history, as part of national revivals in the 19th century, resulted with separation of "one's own" history from common universal history by such way of perceiving, understanding and treating the past that constructed history as history of a nation.[52] A new discipline, sociology, emerged in the late 19th century and analyzed and compared these perspectives on a larger scale.

Macaulay and Whig history[edit]

Thomas Macaulay produced his most famous work of history, The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, in 1848. His writings are famous for their ringing prose and for their confident, sometimes dogmatic, emphasis on a progressive model of British history, according to which the country threw off superstition, autocracy and confusion to create a balanced constitution and a forward-looking culture combined with freedom of belief and expression. This model of human progress has been called the Whig interpretation of history.[53]

His legacy continues to be controversial; Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote that "most professional historians have long since given up reading Macaulay, as they have given up writing the kind of history he wrote and thinking about history as he did."[54] However, J. R. Western wrote that: "Despite its age and blemishes, Macaulay's History of England has still to be superseded by a full-scale modern history of the period".[55]

The term Whig history, coined by Herbert Butterfield in his short book The Whig Interpretation of History in 1931, means the approach to historiography which presents the past as an inevitable progression towards ever greater liberty and enlightenment, culminating in modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy. In general, Whig historians emphasized the rise of constitutional government, personal freedoms and scientific progress. The term has been also applied widely in historical disciplines outside of British history (the history of science, for example) to criticize any teleological (or goal-directed), hero-based, and transhistorical narrative.[56]

Paul Rapin de Thoyras's history of England, published in 1723, became "the classic Whig history" for the first half of the 18th century,.[57] It was later supplanted by the immensely popular The History of England by David Hume. Whig historians emphasized the achievements of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This included James Mackintosh's History of the Revolution in England in 1688, William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England and Henry Hallam's Constitutional History of England.[58]

The most famous exponent of 'Whiggery' was Thomas Babington Macaulay, who published the first volumes of his The History of England from the Accession of James II in 1848. It proved an immediate success and replaced Hume's history to become the new orthodoxy.[59] His 'Whiggish convictions' are spelled out in his first chapter:

I shall relate how the new settlement was...successfully defended against foreign and domestic enemies; how... the authority of law and the security of property were found to be compatible with a liberty of discussion and of individual action never before known; how, from the auspicious union of order and freedom, sprang a prosperity of which the annals of human affairs had furnished no example; how our country, from a state of ignominious vassalage, rapidly rose to the place of umpire among European powers; how her opulence and her martial glory grew together;... how a gigantic commerce gave birth to a maritime power, compared with which every other maritime power, ancient or modern, sinks into insignificance... the history of our country during the last hundred and sixty years is eminently the history of physical, of moral, and of intellectual improvement.

This consensus was steadily undermined during the post-World War I re-evaluation of European history, and Butterfield's critique exemplified this trend. Intellectuals no longer believed the world was automatically getting better and better. Subsequent generations of academic historians have similarly rejected Whig history because of its presentist and teleological assumption that history is driving toward some sort of goal.[60] Other criticized 'Whig' assumptions included viewing the British system as the apex of human political development, assuming that political figures in the past held current political beliefs (anachronism), considering British history as a march of progress with inevitable outcomes and presenting political figures of the past as heroes, who advanced the cause of this political progress, or villains, who sought to hinder its inevitable triumph. J. Hart says "a Whig interpretation requires human heroes and villains in the story."[61]

20th century[edit]

See also: Category:Historiography by country

20th century historiography in major countries is characterized by a move to universities and academic research centers. Popular history continued to be written by self-educated amateurs, but scholarly history increasingly became the province of PhD's trained in research seminars at a university. The training emphasized working with primary sources in archives. Seminars taught graduate students how to review the historiography of the topics, so that they could understand the conceptual frameworks currently in use, and the criticisms regarding their strengths and weaknesses.[62][63] Western Europe and the United States took leading roles in this development. The emergence of area studies of other regions also developed historiographical practices.

France: Annales School[edit]

Main article: Annales School

The French Annales School radically changed the focus of historical research in France during the 20th century by stressing long-term social history, rather than political or diplomatic themes. The school emphasized the use of quantification and the paying of special attention to geography.[64][65]

The Annales d'histoire économique et sociale journal was founded in 1929 in Strasbourg by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre. These authors, the former a medieval historian and the latter an early modernist, quickly became associated with the distinctive Annales approach, which combined geography, history, and the sociological approaches of the Année Sociologique (many members of which were their colleagues at Strasbourg) to produce an approach which rejected the predominant emphasis on politics, diplomacy and war of many 19th and early 20th-century historians as spearheaded by historians whom Febvre called Les Sorbonnistes. Instead, they pioneered an approach to a study of long-term historical structures (la longue durée) over events and political transformations.[66] Geography, material culture, and what later Annalistes called mentalités, or the psychology of the epoch, are also characteristic areas of study. The goal of the Annales was to undo the work of the Sorbonnistes, to turn French historians away from the narrowly political and diplomatic toward the new vistas in social and economic history.[67] For early modern Mexican history, the work of Marc Bloch's student François Chevalier on the formation of landed estates (haciendas) from the sixteenth century to the seventeenth had a major impact on Mexican history and historiography,[68] setting off an important debate about whether landed estates were basically feudal or capitalistic.[69][70]

An eminent member of this school, Georges Duby, described his approach to history as one that

relegated the sensational to the sidelines and was reluctant to give a simple accounting of events, but strived on the contrary to pose and solve problems and, neglecting surface disturbances, to observe the long and medium-term evolution of economy, society and civilisation.

The Annalistes, especially Lucien Febvre, advocated a histoire totale, or histoire tout court, a complete study of a historical problem.

The second era of the school was led by Fernand Braudel and was very influential throughout the 1960s and 1970s, especially for his work on the Mediterranean region in the era of Philip II of Spain. Braudel developed the idea, often associated with Annalistes, of different modes of historical time: l'histoire quasi immobile (motionless history) of historical geography, the history of social, political and economic structures (la longue durée), and the history of men and events, in the context of their structures. His 'longue durée' approach stressed slow, and often imperceptible effects of space, climate and technology on the actions of human beings in the past. The Annales historians, after living through two world wars and major political upheavals in France, were deeply uncomfortable with the notion that multiple ruptures and discontinuities created history. They preferred to stress slow change and the longue durée. They paid special attention to geography, climate, and demography as long-term factors. They considered the continuities of the deepest structures were central to history, beside which upheavals in institutions or the superstructure of social life were of little significance, for history lies beyond the reach of conscious actors, especially the will of revolutionaries.[71]

Noting the political upheavals in Europe and especially in France in 1968, Eric Hobsbawm argued that "in France the virtual hegemony of Braudelian history and the Annales came to an end after 1968, and the international influence of the journal dropped steeply."[72] Multiple responses were attempted by the school. Scholars moved in multiple directions, covering in disconnected fashion the social, economic, and cultural history of different eras and different parts of the globe. By the time of crisis the school was building a vast publishing and research network reaching across France, Europe, and the rest of the world. Influence indeed spread out from Paris, but few new ideas came in. Much emphasis was given to quantitative data, seen as the key to unlocking all of social history.[73] However, the Annales ignored the developments in quantitative studies underway in the U.S. and Britain, which reshaped economic, political and demographic research.[74]

Marxist historiography[edit]

Main article: Marxist historiography

Further information: Communist Party Historians Group

Marxist historiography developed as a school of historiography influenced by the chief tenets of Marxism, including the centrality of social class and economic constraints in determining historical outcomes (historical materialism). Friedrich Engels wrote The Peasant War in Germany

Allegory on writing history by Jacob de Wit (1754). An almost naked Truth keeps an eye on the writer of history. Pallas Athena (Wisdom) on left gives advice.
Bust of Thucydides, Hellenistic copy of a 4th-century BC work
A page of Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Jules Michelet (1798–1874), later in his career.
Hippolyte Taine (1828–1893)
Ranke established history as a professional academic discipline in Germany.
The 20th century saw the creation of a huge variety of historiographical approaches; one was Marc Bloch's focus on social history rather than traditional political history.

The historiography of Spanish America has a long history.[1][2][3] It dates back to revisionist[further explanation needed] accounts of the conquest, Spaniards’ eighteenth-century attempts to discover how to reverse the decline of its empire,[4] and American-born Spaniards' (creoles') search for an identity other than Spanish, and the creation of creole patriotism.[5] Following independence in some parts of Spanish America, some politically-engaged citizens of the new sovereign nations sought to shape national identity.[6] In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, non-Spanish American historians began writing chronicles important events, such as the conquests of Mexico and Peru,[7] dispassionate histories of the Spanish imperial project after its almost complete demise in the hemisphere,[8] and histories of the southwest borderlands, areas of the United States that had previously been part of the Spanish empire, led by Herbert Eugene Bolton.[9] At the turn of the twentieth century, scholarly research on Spanish America saw the creation of college courses dealing with the region, the systematic training of professional historians in the field, and the founding of the first specialized journal, Hispanic American Historical Review.[10][11] For most of the twentieth century, historians of colonial Spanish America read and were familiar with a large canon of work. With the expansion of the field in the late twentieth century, there has been the establishment of new subfields, the founding of new journals, and the proliferation of monographs, anthologies, and articles for increasingly specialized practitioners and readerships. The Conference on Latin American History, the organization of Latin American historians affiliated with the American Historical Association, awards a number of prizes for publications, with works on early Latin American history well represented.[12]

General works[edit]

Although the term "colonial" is contested by some scholars as being historically inaccurate, pejorative, or both,[13][14][15] it remains a standard term for the titles of books, articles, and scholarly journals and the like to denote the period 1492-ca. 1825.

A number of general works have focused on the Spanish era and provide an overview of the era. A short but classic general history is Charles Gibson's Spain in America.[16] A major textbook comparing Spanish America and Brazil is James Lockhart and Stuart B. Schwartz's 1983 Early Latin America, which argues that Spanish America and Brazil were structurally similar. Its annotated bibliography of important works in the field remains important, but many significant studies have been published since 1983.[17] New emphases, such as women, indigenous, and blacks as groups and as political actors in rebellion and other resistance to colonial regimes.[18] A standard work on colonial Latin America that has gone through multiple editions is Mark Burkholder and Lyman L. Johnson's Colonial Latin America.[19] Collections of primary source documents have been published over the years, which are especially valuable for classroom use.[20][21][22][23]

There are relatively few general works on in English on a single country, but Mexico has been the subject of a number of histories.[24][25][26] Two general works concentrating on the colonial period are by Ida Altman and coauthors.[27] and Alan Knight.[28]

Multi-volume reference works have appeared over the years. The Handbook of Latin American Studies, based in the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress, annually publishes annotated bibliographies of new works in the field, with contributing editors providing an overview essay. The five-volume Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture appeared in 1996, with short articles by multiple authors.[29] A general three-volume work published in 2006 is Iberia and the Americas.[30] Various other more specialized encyclopedias have appeared, such as the two-volume The Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society, and Culture.[31] The Cambridge History of Latin America has two volumes devoted to topics on colonial Latin America by leading scholars.[32] Anthropology and ethnohistory has multi-volume works devoted to Spanish America, including the six-volume Handbook of South American Indians (1946-1959)[33] The National Science Foundation provided funding to create the Handbook of Middle American Indians (1964–76).[34] A three-volume work, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures has articles on the sweep of Mesoamerican culture from pre-Contact to the late twentieth century.[35] Another specialized work appearing in tandem with the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage is The Christopher Columbus Encyclopedia. 2 vols.[36] Useful bibliographic tools for colonial Mexico are the three volumes by historical geographer Peter Gerhard dealing with civil administrative and ecclesiastical jurisdictions in central Mexico,[37] the north,[38] and the southeastern frontier.[39]

Useful historiographical essays on colonial Spanish America include those in The Oxford Handbook of Latin American History.[40] The historigraphical essays deal with New Spain,[41] colonial Spanish South America,[42] sexuality,[43] and the independence era.[44] Many important essays by major figures in the field have appeared journals over the years.[45][46][47]

Original scholarly research, bibliographic review essays, and reviews of individual works appear in an increasing number of scholarly journals, including Hispanic American Historical Review (1918-), The Americas, (1944-) Journal of Latin American Studies (1969-), Bulletin of Latin American Research (1981-), Colonial Latin American Review (1992-), Journal of Colonial Latin American Studies (2016-), and others. The digitization of journals and their availability online make it far easier for access. In recent years, the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities has overseen the development of electronic listservs on a variety of topics. H-LATAM and others publish book reviews online, accessible to the public.

Early historiography[edit]

From the early sixteenth century onward, Spaniards wrote accounts of Spain's overseas explorations, conquests, religious evangelization, the overseas empire. The authors range from conquerors, crown officials, and religious personnel.[48][49] The early development of the idea of Spanish American local patriotism, separate from Spanish identity, has been examined through the writings of a number of key figures, such as Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, Bartolomé de las Casas, Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, Fray Juan de Torquemada, Francisco Javier Clavijero, and others.[50] Spaniards grappled with how to write their own imperial history and Spanish Americas created a "patriotic epistemology."[51]

European rivals of Spain wrote a number of polemics, characterizing the Spanish as cruel, bigoted, and exploitative. The so-called Black Legend drew on Bartolomé de Las Casas's contemporary critique, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1552) and became an entrenched view of the Spanish colonial era.[52][53] Defenders of the Spanish attempts to defend the Indians from exploitation created what was called the White Legend of Spanish tolerance and protection of the Indians.[54] The question was debated in the mid to late twentieth century and continues to have some salience in the twenty-first.[55][56][57]

Scottish scholar William Robertson (1721-1793), who established his scholarly reputation by writing a biography of Spain's Charles V, wrote the first major history in English of Spanish America, The History of America (1777). The work paraphrases much of Spanish historian Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas's Décadas, it also contained new sources. It reached a wide readership when Britain was rising as a global empire. Robertson drew on Las Casas's A Short Account, of Spanish cruelty, he noted Las Casas likely exaggerated.[58] Spanish historians debated whether to translate Robertson's history to Spanish, which proponents supported because of Robertson's generally even-handed approach to Spanish history, but the project ultimately shelved when powerful politician José de Gálvez disapproved.[59]

Scholars in France, particularly Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), Guillaume Thomas François Raynal (1713-1796) and Cornelius de Pauw (1739-1799), whose works generally disparaged Americas and its populations the region, which Iberian-born ("peninsular ") and American-born Spaniards ("criollos")sought to counter.[60][61]

A major figure in Spanish American history and historiography is Prussian scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt.[62] His five-year scientific sojourn in Spanish America with the approval of the Spanish crown, contributed new knowledge about the wealth and diversity of the Spanish empire. Humboldt's self-funded expedition from 1799-1840 was the foundation of his subsequent publications that made him the dominant intellectual figure of the nineteenth century. His Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain was first published in French in 1810 and was immediately translated to English.[63] Humboldt's full access to crown officials and their documentary sources allowed him to create a detailed description of Spain's most valuable colony at the turn of the nineteenth century. "In all but his strictly scientific works, Humboldt acted as the spokesman of the Bourbon Enlightenment, the approved medium, so to say, through which the collective inquiries of an entire generation of royal officials and creole savants were transmitted to the European public,t heir reception assured by the prestige of the author."[64]

In the early post-independence era, history writing in the nations of Spanish America was accomplished by those from a particular country or region. Often these writings are part of the creation of a national identity from a particular political viewpoint. Politically conservative historians looked to the colonial era with nostalgia, while politically liberal historians considered the colonial era with disdain. An important example is Mexico's conservative politician and intellectual Lucas Alamán. His five-volume Historia de Mejico is the country's first history, covering the colonial era up to and including the struggle for independence. Alamán viewed crown rule during the colonial era as ideal, and political independence that after the brief monarchy of Agustín de Iturbide, the Mexican republic was characterized by liberal demagoguery and factionalism.[65] Writing in the mid-nineteenth century, Mexican liberal Vicente Riva Palacio, grandson of insurgent hero Vicente Guerrero, wrote a five-volume history of the colonial era from a liberal viewpoint,[66][67] During the era of Porfirio Díaz (1876-1911), writing a new history of Mexico became a priority and Justo Sierra, minister of education, wrote an important work, The Political Evolution of the Mexican People (1900–02), whose first two major sections deal with "aboriginal civilizations and the conquest" and the colonial era and independence .[68]

In the United States, the work of William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859) on the conquests of Mexico and Peru became best sellers in the mid-nineteenth century, but were firmly based on printed texts and archival sources.[69] Prescott's work on the conquest of Mexico was almost immediately translated to Spanish for a Mexican readership, even though it had an underlying anti-Catholic bias. For conservative Mexicans, Prescott's description of the Aztecs as "barbarians" and "savages" fit their notion of the indigenous and the need for the Spanish conquest.[70]

The U.S. victory in U.S.-Mexican war (1846–48), when it gained significant territory in western North America, incorporated territory previously held by Spain and then independent Mexico and in the U.S. the history of these now-called Spanish borderlands became a subject for historians.[71] In the U.S. Hubert Howe Bancroft was a leader in the development of the history of Spanish American history and the borderlands.[72] His multivolume histories of various regions of northern Spanish America were foundational works in the field, although sometimes dismissed by later historians, "at their peril."[73] He accumulated a vast research library, which he donated to University of California, Berkeley. The Bancroft Library was a key component to the emergence of the Berkeley campus as a center for the study Latin American history. A major practitioner of the field was Berkeley professor Herbert E. Bolton, who became director of the Bancroft Library. As President of the American Historical Association laid out his vision of an integrated history of the Americas in "The Epic of Greater America".[74]

Starting around the turn of the twentieth century, university-level courses on Latin American history were created and the number of historians trained in the use of "scientific history," using primary sources and even-handed approach to the writing of history increased. Early leaders in the field founded the Hispanic American Historical Review in 1918, and then as the number of practitioners drew, they founded the professional organization of Latin American historians, the Conference on Latin American History in 1926. The development of Latin American history was first examined in a two-volume collection of essays and primary sources, prepared for the Conference on Latin American History,[75] and in a monograph by Helen Delpar, Looking South: The Evolution of Latin Americanist Scholarship in the United States, 1850-1975.[76] For more recent history of the field in Great Britain, see Victor Bulmer-Thomas, ed. Thirty Years of Latin American Studies in the United Kingdom 1965-1995.[77]

European Age of Exploration and the early Caribbean[edit]

The European age of expansion or the age of exploration focuses on the period from the European point of view: crown sponsorship of voyages of exploration, early contacts with indigenous peoples, and the establishment of European settlements.[78] There were a spate of publications that appeared in order to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Columbus's 1492 voyage. A number of important contributions published earlier include the two-volume First Images of America: The Impact of the New World on the Old.[79]Hugh Honour's beautifully illustrated The New Golden Land: European Images of America from Discoveries to the Present Time includes many allegorical images of "America" as a befeathered, half-naked denizen of the "New World", which began appearing in Europe in the mid-sixteenth century.[80]

Early European settlements in the Caribbean and the role of the family of Genoese mariner Christopher Columbus have been the subject of a number of studies.[81][82] Historical geographer Carl O. Sauer's The Early Spain Main remains a classic publication.[83] The 500th anniversary of Columbus's first voyage was marked with a large number of publications, a number of which emphasize the indigenous as historical actors, helping to create a fuller and more nuanced picture of historical dynamics in the Caribbean.[84]Ida Altman's study of the rebellion of the indigenous leader Enriquillo includes a very useful discussion of the historiography of the early period.[85]

Historiography of the conquest[edit]

The history of the Spanish conquest of Mexico and of Peru has long fascinated scholars and the general public. With the quincentenary of the first Columbus voyage in 1492, there has been a renewed interest in the very early encounter between Europeans and New World indigenous peoples.[86] Sources for the histories of the conquest of Mexico are particularly rich, and the historiographical debates about events and interpretations from multiple viewpoints inform the discussions.[87]

Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés wrote to Charles V during the events of the conquest, attempting to his explain his actions and demonstrate the importance of the conquest. Bernal Díaz del Castillo wrote important accounts of the conquest, and other, less prominent Spanish conquerors petitioned the crown to garner rewards from the crown. In addition to these accounts by the European winners, are those by their indigenous allies, particularly the Tlaxcalans and Texcocans, but also the defeated rulers of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. A "vision of the vanquished" was recorded by sixteenth-century Franciscan, Bernardino de Sahagún as the last volume of his General History of the Things of New Spain, often known as the Florentine Codex.

Revisionist history of the conquest was being written as early as the sixteenth century. Accounts by Spanish participants and later authors have long been available, starting with the publication of Hernán Cortés's letters to the king, Francisco López de Gómara's biography of Cortés commissioned by Cortés's son and heir Don Martín. That laudatory biography prompted an irate Bernal Díaz del Castillo to write his "true history" of the conquest of Mexico, finished in 1568, but first published in 1632. Multiple editions of Cortés's letters and Bernal Díaz del Castillo's "true history" have appeared over the years. Accounts from the various Nahua perspectives have appeared, including Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagún's two accounts of the conquest from the Tlatelolco viewpoint, book XII of the Florentine Codex,[88][89][90] Anthologies of accounts of the conquest from additional Nahua perspectives have appeared.[91][92][93] Spanish accounts of the conquest of Yucatán have been available in print, but now accounts by Maya conquerors have been published in English translation.[94] The so-called "new conquest history" aims to encompass any encounter between Europeans and indigenous peoples in contexts beyond complex indigenous civilizations and European conquerors.[95]

A scholarly debate in the twentieth century concerned the so-called Black Legend, which characterized the Spanish conquest and its colonial empire as being uniquely cruel and Spaniards as fanatical and bigoted. It engaged historians in Spain, Argentina, and in the English-speaking scholarly world. In the U.S., Lewis Hanke's studies of Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas opened the debate, arguing that Spain struggled for justice in its treatment of the indigenous.[96]Benjamin Keen took the position that the assessment of Spanish mistreatment was largely true.[97]Charles Gibson edited a volume of writings on the Black Legend.[98] Sverker Arnoldson (1960) and William B. Maltby (1971) showed that anti-Spanish attitudes in Europe antedated Las Casas's writings and had multiple origins.[99][100] Generally the Black Legend is no longer a source of scholarly debate; however, anti-Spanish attitudes and stereotypes continue to affect modern debates about immigration in the U.S. and other issues, although the explicit label Black Legend is generally not invoked.[101]


The catastrophic fall in the indigenous populations of Spanish America was evident from the first contacts in the Caribbean, something that alarmed Bartolomé de las Casas. The impacts of the demographic collapse has continued to garner attention following the early studies by Sherburne F. Cook and Woodrow Borah, who examined censuses and other materials to make empirical assessments.[102] The question of sources and numbers continues to be an issue in the field, with David P. Henige’s Numbers from Nowhere, a useful contribution.[103] Nobel David Cook’s Born to Die[104] as well as Alfred Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange are valuable and readable accounts of epidemic disease in the early colonial period. Regional studies of population decline have appeared for a number of areas including Mexico, Peru, Honduras, and Ecuador. The moral and religious implications of the collapse for Spanish Catholics is explored in an anthology with case studies from various parts of colonial Spanish America, The Secret Judgments of God.[105] Religious and moral interpretations of disease gave way in the eighteenth century to scientific public health responses to epidemics.[106][107][108]

Institutional history[edit]

The institutional history of Spain's and Portugal's overseas empires was an early focus of historiography. Laying out the structures of crown rule (civil and ecclesiastical) created the framework to understand how the two overseas empires functioned. An early study in English of Spanish America was Edward Gaylord Bourne's four-volume Spain in America (1904), a historian who "viewe[ed] the Spanish colonial process dispassionately and thereby escape[d] the conventional Anglo-Protestant attitudes of outraged or tolerant disparagement."[109] In 1918 Harvard professor of history Clarence Haring published a monograph examining the legal structure of trade in the Hapsburg era, followed by his major work on the Spanish empire (1947).[110][111] A relatively early, specialized study of the Caracas Company (1728-1784) is in this vein of institutional history.[112] One of the few women publishing scholarly works in the early twentieth century was Lillian Estelle Fisher, whose studies of the viceregal administration and the intendant system were important contributions to institutional.[113][114] Other important works dealing with institutions are Arthur Aiton's biography of the first viceroy, Don Antonio de Mendoza, who set many patterns for future administrators in Spanish America.[115] and J.H. Parry on the high court of New Galicia and the sale of public office in the Spanish empire.[116][117] Further research has been published more recently.[118] An important institutional study by Mark A. Burkholder and Douglas S. Chandler examines collectively the high courts.[119] Scholars have examined how flexible the Spanish bureaucracy was in practice, with John Leddy Phelan publishing a sutdy of the bureaucracy of seventeenth-century Quito, and an important general article.[120][121] A study of the bureaucracy of Mexico City from the late colonial era to the early Mexican republic is worth noting.[122] Kenneth J. Andrien has examined the viceroyalty of Peru in the seventeenth century.[123]Jonathan I. Israel's work on seventeenth-century Mexico is especially important, showing how creole elites shaped state power by mobilizing the urban plebe to resist actions counter to their interests.[124]

The early Caribbean has been the focus of a few important works, but compared to the central areas, is much less studied. Worth noting are a study of sixteenth-century crown efforts at defense[125] and works on colonial Florida.[126][127]

The limits of royal power have also been examined.[128]Woodrow Borah's Justice By Insurance (1983) shows how the Spanish crown's establishment of tax-funded legal assistance to Indians in Mexico provided the means for indigenous communities to litigate in the Spanish courts.[129] A useful general examination in the twenty-first century is Susan Elizabeth Ramírez, "Institutions of the Spanish American Empire in the Hapsburg Era"[130] A recent development in the history of institutions focuses on cultural aspects of state power.[131]

Church-state relations and religion in Spanish America have also been a focus of research, but in the early twentieth century, it did not receive as much attention as the subject merits. What has been called the "spiritual conquest," the early period of evangelization in Mexico, has received considerable treatment by scholars.[132] Another classic publication on the period is John Leddy Phelan's work on the early Franciscans in Mexico.[133] The economic foundations of the Catholic Church have been examined for the early colonial era.[134] The Holy Office of the Inquisition in Spanish America has been a subject of inquiry since Henry Charles Lea's works at the turn of the twentieth century.[135] In the twentieth century, Richard E. Greenleaf examined the Inquisition as an institution in sixteenth-century Mexico.[136] Later work on the Inquisition has used it voluminous records for writing social history in Mexico and Peru.

The Bourbon Reforms of the late eighteenth century have been more broadly studied, examining the changes in administrative arrangements with the Spanish crown that resulted in the intendancy system.[137][138][139]

An important shift in church-state relations during the Bourbon Reforms, was the crown's attempt to rein in the privileges of the clergy as it strengthened the prerogatives of the crown in a position known as regalism.[140] Pamela Voekel has studied cultural aspects of the Bourbon reforms on religion and popular piety.[141]

Trade and commerce in the Bourbon era have been examined, particularly the institution of comercio libre, the loosening of trade strictures within the Spanish empire.[142][143] The administrative reorganization opened up new ways for administrators and merchants to exploit the indigenous in Mexico via forced sale of goods in exchange for red dye production, cochineal, which was an extremely valuable commodity.[144][145]

In the late eighteenth century Spain was forcibly made aware in the Seven Years' War by the capture of Havana and Manila by the British, that it needed to establish a military to defend its empire. The crown established a standing military and filled its ranks with locals.[146][147][148][149][150]

Social history[edit]

Scholars of Latin America have focused on characteristics of the region's populations, with particular interest in social differentiation and stratification, race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and family history, and the dynamics of colonial rule and accommodation or resistance to it. Social history as a field expanded its scope and depth beginning in the 1960s, although it was already developed as a field previous to that. An important 1972 essay by James Lockhart lays out a useful definition, "Social history deals with the informal, the unarticulated, the daily and ordinary manifestations of human existence, as a vital plasma in which all more formal and visible expressions are generated."[151] Archival research utilizing untapped sources or those only partially utilized previously, such as notarial records, indigenous language materials, have allowed new insights into the functioning of colonial societies, particularly the role of non-elites. As one historian put it in 1986, "for the social historian, the long colonial siesta has long given way to sleepless frenzy."[152]

Conquest era[edit]

The social history of the conquest era shift in the way the period is treated, focusing less on events of the conquest and more on its participants. James Lockhart's path-breaking Spanish Peru (1968) concerns the immediate post-conquest era of Peru, deliberately ignoring the political events of the internecine conflicts between Spanish factions. Instead it shows how even during that era, Spanish patterns took hold and a multiracial colonial society took shape.[153] His companion volume, The Men of Cajamarca examines the life patterns of the Spanish conquerors who captured the Inca emperor Atahualpa at Cajamarca who paid a huge ransom in gold for his freedom, and then murdered. The prosopographical study of these conquerors records as much extant information on each man in existing sources, with a general essay laying out the patterns that emerge from the data.[154] A comparable work for the early history of Mexico is Robert Himmerich y Valencia's work on encomenderos.[155] New research on encomenderos in Spanish South America has appeared in recent years.[156][157][158]

Gender as a factor in the conquest era has also shifted the focus in the field. New work on Doña Marina/Malinche, Hernán Cortés's consort and cultural translator sought to contextualize her as a historical figure with a narrow range of choices. The work has aided the rehabilitation of her reputation from being a traitor to "her" people.[159][160] The role of women more generally in the conquest has been explored for the Andean region.[161]

The role of blacks in the conquest is now being explored,[162] as well as Indians outside the main conquests of central Mexico and Peru.[163]


Among elites are crown officials, high churchmen, mining entrepreneurs, and transatlantic merchants, enmeshed in various relationships wielding or benefiting from power as well as the women of this strata, who married well or took the veil. Many are immortalized in contemporary portraits and the subject later, individual biographies or collective biographies.

The history of elites and the role of economic stratification remain important in the field, although there is now a concerted effort to expand research to non-elites.[164][165][166] Elites lived in cities, the headquarters and nexus of civil and religious hierarchies and their large bureaucracies, the hubs of economic activity, and the residence of merchant elites and the nobility. A large number of studies of elites focus on particular cities: vicregal capital and secondary cities, which had a high court (audiencia) and the seat of a bishopric, or were ports from overseas trade. The intersection of silver entrepreneurs and elites in Mexico has been examined in D.A. Brading's classic Miners and Merchants in Bourbon Mexico, 1763-1810, focusing on Guanajuato and in Peter Bakewell's study of Zacatecas.[167][168] Merchants in Mexico City have been studied as a segment of elites for Mexico City in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[169][170][171] as well as merchants in late colonial Veracruz.[172] Merchants in other areas have been studies as well.[173][174] Some extraordinarily successful economic elites, such as miners and merchants, were ennobled by the Spanish crown in the eighteenth century.[175] Individual biographies of successful entrepreneurs have been published.[176][177]

Churchmen who made an important imprint on their respective eras include Juan de Zumárraga,[178]Pedro Moya de Contreras,[179]Juan de Palafox y Mendoza,[180]Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora,[181] and Manuel Abad y Queipo.[182] A few nuns and uncloistered religious women (beatas) wrote spiritual biographies. Advocates for the formal church recognition of holy persons, such as Rosa of Lima, St. Mariana de Jesús de Paredes ("the Lily of Quito"), and St. Felipe de Jesús, wrote hagiographies, mustering evidence for their cases for beatification and canonization. Modern scholars have returned to colonial-era texts to place these women in a larger context.[183][184]

Studies of ecclesiastics as a social grouping include one on the Franciscans in sixteenth-century Mexico.[185] For eighteenth-century Mexico William B. Taylor's Magistrates of the Sacred on the secular clergy is a major contribution.[186] An important study on the secular clergy in eighteenth-century Lima has yet to be published as a monograph.[187] In recent years, studies of elite women who became nuns and the role of convents in colonial society have appeared. Elite indigenous women in Mexico had the possibility of becoming nuns, although not without controversy about their ability to follow a religious vocation.[188][189][190]

Indigenous Peoples[edit]

In the twentieth century, historians and anthropologists of studying colonial Mexico worked to create a compendium of sources of Mesoamericanethnohistory, resulting in four volumes of the Handbook of Middle American Indians being devoted to Mesoamerican ethnohistorical sources.[191] Two major monographs by historian Charles Gibson, the first on the post-conquest history of Tlaxcala, the indigenous polity that allied with Cortés against the Mexica, and the second, his monumental history of the Aztecs of central Mexico during the colonial era, were published by high-profile academic presses and remain classics in Spanish American historiography. Gibson was elected president of the American Historical Association in 1977, indicating how mainstream Mesoamerican ethnohistory had become.[192][193] Litigation by Mexican Indians in Spanish courts in Mexico generated a huge archive of information in Spanish about how the indigenous adapted to colonial rule, which Gibson and other historians have drawn on.[194][195] Scholars utilizing texts in indigenous languages have expanded the understanding the social, political, and religious history of indigenous peoples, particularly in Mexico.[196][197]

Indigenous history of the Andean area has expanded significantly in recent years.[198][199] Andean peoples also petitioned and litigated in the Spanish courts to forward their own interests.[200][201]

The topic of indigenous rebellion against Spanish rule has been explored in central and southern Mexico and the Andes. One of the first major rebellions in Mexico is the 1541 Mixtón War, in which indigenous in central Mexico's west rose up and a full-scale military force led by New Spain's first viceroy.[202] Work on rebellion in central Mexican villages showed that they were local and generally short-lived.[203] and in the southern Maya area there were more long-standing patterns of unrest with religious factors playing a role, such as the Tzeltal Rebellion of 1712.[204][205] Seventeenth-century rebellions in northern Mexico have also garnered attention.[206]

Andean resistance and rebellion have increasingly been studied as a phenomenon. The indigenous writer Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (1535-ca. 1626) who authored El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno has garnered significant attention. The nearly 1,200-page, richly illustrated manuscript by an elite Andean is a critique of Spanish rule in the Andes that can be considered a lengthy petition to the Spanish monarch to ameliorate abuses of colonial rule.[207] General accounts of resistance and rebellion have been published.[208][209] The great eighteenth-century rebellion of Tupac Amaru that challenged colonial rule has been the focus of much scholarship.[210][211][212][213]


The study of race dates to the earliest days of the Spanish empire, with debates about the status of the indigenous – whether they had souls, whether they could be enslaved, whether they could be Catholic priests, whether they were subject to the Inquisition. The decisions steered crown and ecclesiastical policy and practices. With the importation of Africans as slaves during the early days of European settlement in the Caribbean and the emergence of race mixture, social hierarchies and racial categories became complex. The legal division between the República de indios, that put the indigenous population in a separate legal category from the República de españoles that included Europeans, Africans, and mixed-race castas was the crown’s policy to rule its vassals with racial status as one criterion.

Much scholarly work has been published in recent years on social structure and race, with an emphasis on how Africans were situated in the legal structure, their socioeconomic status, place within the Catholic Church, and cultural expressions. Modern studies of race in Spanish America date to the 1940s with the publication of Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán’s monograph on Africans in Mexico.[214] In the United States, the 1947 publication of Frank Tannenbaum’s Slave and Citizen: The Negro in the Americas cast Latin American slavery as more benevolent compared to that in the United States. In Tannenbaum's work, he argued that although slaves in Latin America were in forced servitude, they incorporated into society as Catholics, could sue for better treatment in Spanish courts, had legal routes to freedom, and in most places abolition was without armed conflict, such as the Civil War in the U.S.[215] The work is still a center of contention, with a number of scholars dismissing it as being wrong or outdated, while others consider the basic comparison still holding and simply no longer label it as the "Tannenbaum thesis."[216]

The 1960s marked the beginning of an upsurge in studies of race and race mixture. Swedish historian Magnus Mörner’s 1967 Race Mixture in the History of Latin America, published by a trade press and suitable for college courses, remained important for defining the issues surrounding race.[217] The historiography on Africans and slavery in Latin America was examined in Frederick Bowser’s 1972 article in Latin American Research Review, summarizing research to date and prospects for further investigation. His major monograph, The African Slave in Colonial Peru, African Slave in Colonial Peru, 1524-1650, marked a significant advance in the field, utilizing rich archival sources and broadening the research area to Peru.[218][219]

The debates about race, class, and "caste" took off in the 1970s with works by a number of scholars.[220][221][222][223][224][225] Scholars have been also interested in how racial hierarchy has been depicted visually in the eighteenth-century flowering of the secular genre of casta painting. These paintings from the elite viewpoint show racial stereotypes with father of one race, mother of another, and their offspring labeled in yet another category.[226][227][228]

Elites’ concern about racial purity or "limpieza de sangre" (purity of blood), which in Spain largely revolved around whether one was of pure Christian heritage, in Spanish America encompassed the "taint" of non-white admixture. A key work is María Elena Martínez’s Genealogical Fictions, showing the extent to which elite families sought erase blemishes from genealogies.[229] Another essential work to understand the workings of race in Spanish America is Ann Twinam’s work on petitions to the crown by mulattos and pardos for dispensation from their non-white status, to pursue education or a profession, and later as a blanket request not tied to professional rules prohibiting non-whites to practice. In the decades following Tannenbaum's work, there were few of these documents, known cédulas de gracias al sacar,, with just four cases identified, but the possibility of upward social mobility played an important role in framing scholarly analysis of dynamics of race in Spanish America.[230] Considerable work on social mobility preceded that work, with R. Douglas Cope’s The Limits of Racial Domination remaining important.[231]

The incorporation of blacks and indigenous into Spanish American Catholicism meant that they were part of the spiritual community. Recent work indicates that blacks in Castile were classified as "Old Christians" and obtained licenses to migrate to the Spanish Indies, where many became artisans and a few became wealthy and prominent.[232] The Church did not condemn slavery as such. The Church generally remained exclusionary in the priesthood and kept separate parish registers for different racial categories. Black and indigenous confraternities (cofradías) provided a religious structure for reinforcement of ties among their members.[233][234][235]

Work on blacks and Indians, and mixed categories, has expanded to include complexities of interaction not previously examined. Works by Matthew Restall and others explore race in Mexico.[236][237][238] There is also new work on the colonial Andes as well.[239][240][241][242]

Gender, sexuality, and family[edit]

Women's history and gender history developed as a field of Spanish American history in tandem with its emergence in the U.S. and Europe, with Asunción Lavrin being a pioneer.[243][244][245] Works continue to increase, gain scholarly attention, and historiographic assessment.[246] Studies of elites generally has led to the understanding of the role of elite women in colonial Spanish America as holders of property, titles, and repositories of family honor.[247][248][249] Crown concerns over inappropriate choice of marriage partners, such as mixed-race unions or partners of unequal socioeconomic status, prompted edicts empowering parents to control marital decisions.[250]

Early works on Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz,a singular seventeenth-century poet, famous in her own time,[251][252] widened to study elite women who were eligible to become nuns, and further expanded to examine the lives of ordinary, often mixed-race, urban women.[253] Nuns and convents have been well studied.[254][255] Spanish American holy women such as Saint Rose of Lima and the Lily of Quito, beatas, as well as the popular saint of Puebla, Mexico, Catarina de San Juan, have been the subject of recent scholarly work.[183][256]

Gender has been the central issue of recent works on urban and indigenous women.[257][258] The role of indigenous women in colonial societies has been explored in a series of recent works.[259][260][261][262]

The history of sexuality has expanded in recent years from studies of marriage and sexuality[263] to homosexuality,[264][265]

A 17th-century Dutch map of the Americas
Lucas Alamán, conservative politician and the author of a 5 volume history of Mexico
Don Antonio de Mendoza, first viceroy of New Spain, who set many lasting policies during his term
Guaman Poma de Ayala and his son on the way to Lima, illustration from his Nueva Coronica (NC, p. 1105)
An elite woman with her black slave, Quito
Depiction of the casta system in 18th c. Mexico
St Mariana de Jesús, the "Lily of Quito," known for her spirituality


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