“Colombia” did not exist as a country until the nineteenth century. Therefore, the field “Colonial Literature of Colombia” is a designation for the convenience of those who wish to construct a nation-centric literary history. “The New Kingdom of Granada” (El Nuevo Reino de Granada), so named by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada to honor Granada, where he had lived before going to the New World (Ruíz Rivera xxi; Ramos 306–7), was an administrative region created in the sixteenth century larger than present-day Colombia. In 1717 the Crown established the “Vice-royalty of New Granada” (El Virreino de Nueva Granada), which included modern Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela, as well as parts of the Guyanas, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. Santa Fe de Bogotá was its capital. Around the middle of the eighteenth century, Nueva Granada began a fundamental transformation that ended with the declaration of independence on July 20, 1810, or in 1819, when the Vice-royalty of New Granada was dissolved. “La Gran Colombia” succeeded the vice-royalty and was at first roughly contiguous with it. However, Simón Bolívar's dream of an enduring Gran Colombia, with a centralized administration, failed by 1831. Its territories were lopped off bit by bit until the last one, Panama, seceded in 1903, “encouraged” by the United States.
An argument could be made for including in the present essay the major texts, whatever their genres, produced between 1492 and 1819 in the New Kingdom of Granada and the Vice-royalty of New Granada because those regions were a single administrative colonial domain. However, this essay is limited to Spanish-language authors and literary texts – and occasionally to the more inclusively designated “colonial discourse” – produced during the colonial era up to the early eighteenth century in the region demarcated by the boundary lines of present-day Colombia.
Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo (Spain, 1856–1912) is generally credited with establishing the literary history of Spanish America as a “field,” with his Historia de la poesía hispano-americana. Three scholars dominate the field of Colombian literary history and are considered pioneering and indispensable. José María Vergara y Vergara (d. 1872) wrote Historia de la literatura en Nueva Granada, which has been available in several editions since its first publication in 1867. Antonio Gómez Restrepo (d. 1946) published Historia de la literatura colombiana in 1938 and 1945.