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Volume 1 in The Cambridge History of Latin America looks at the history of colonial Latin America.


"Prospective readers who want a wide ranging collection of modern, high level essays on colonial Latin America will welcome this work warmly." - American Historical Review

"...the essential reference and review work in Latin American history." - American Historical Review

"The historical scholarship, judgement and writing displayed in these pages are of a superior kind and will ensure that the work stands supreme for many decades to come. The editor and his authors are to be applauded for producing a history which honours the profession, serves the subject and deserves a great number of readers. We are in the presence of a major historical enterprise" - Bulletin of Latin American Research

"… will inform and guide the study of colonial society for years to come." - Hispanic American Historical Review

"... [a] magisterial work ... the best in. Latin American scholarship on the colonial period ... a comprehensive history of Latin America that is most unlikely to be superseded ... a monumental work of learning." - British Book News

"... fresh outlook, painstaking scholarship, and fine writing style ... Superior and authoritative, this work will lead in the field ... for years to come." - Library Journal

"a major synthesis of current scholarship on colonial Latin America… the most detailed, comprehensive and authoritative work on the subject available." - Library Journal Best Reference Books of 1985

"a classic work for which generations will be grateful." - Financial Times

"Leslie Bethell has done a remarkable job ... nowhere else, will the reader find so comprehensive an account of nearly every aspect of the history of Central and South America from the remotest past to the eve of Independence, ... the most detailed, extensive and authoritative general account of Latin America to date." - Times Literary Supplement

"... impressed by the international nature of the research on the region, the range of the themes discussed, the sophistication. of the methods and interpretations developed ... the two volumes show the cosmopolitan nature of the methodological and theoretical influences on the colonial history of Latin America." - Times Higher Education Supplement

"It is remarkable how one individual ... is planner, coordinator and editor of the entire set ... Throughout his work we find the ultimate in scholarship, expressed simply, precisely and clearly. The editing as well as the physical presentation are first rate… the set promises to be a treasure trove." - Inter American Review of Bibliography

"An up-to-date synthesis of the best scholarship in the field." - Luso-Brazilian Review

"a truly impressive project ... Leslie Bethell is to be complemented on the overall high quality of the 34 contributions ... the organization and format of these volumes and the Herculean labor of general editorship." - Southeastem Latin Americanist

"a landmark event to be celebrated by all readers, interested in any aspect of the history, culture and society of Latin America ... the first time a single editor has been given responsibility for the planning, coordination and editing of an entire Cambridge History ... a massive undertaking ... some truly remarkable essays ... several of the chapters, in these two volumes may well stand for some time as classic essays on their topic. All the chapters exhibit a uniformly high level of both scholarship and clarity ... the two volumes now in, hand shew a remarkable consistency of editorial craftsmanship and cohesiveness, to say nothing of a very high level, of scholarly achievement ... marks a giant step forward ... a celebration of the maturation of the field and a stimulant to fresh discovery and thought." - Canadian Journal of History

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  • 1 - Mesoamerica before 1519
    pp 1-36
  • View abstract


    This chapter outlines the development of the peoples and high cultures of Mesoamerica before the settlement of the Mexicas in the Valley of Mexico. It examines the main features of political and socio-economic organization and artistic and intellectual achievement during the period of Mexica pre-eminence. The chapter presents an overview of the prevailing situation in Mesoamerica on the eve of the European invasion. Excavations made in Olmec centres such as Tres Zapotes, La Venta, San Lorenzo and others have revealed great cultural transformations. Teotihuacan, the ' metropolis of the gods', is the best example of the culmination of Classic civilization in the central plateau. One of the main features of the Classic legacy was urbanism. Gold, silver, copper, tin and, probably to a lesser extent, lead, were the metals known to Mesoamericans. The administration of the markets and the establishment of standards of exchange were two important functions of the merchants.
  • 2 - The Indians of the Caribbean and Circum-Caribbean at the end of the fifteenth century
    pp 37-58
  • View abstract


    At the end of the fifteenth century AD, the lands surrounding the Caribbean Sea were densely populated with people who were frequently organized into rank societies or chiefdoms of varying degrees of complexity. The cultural variety which characterized the circum-Caribbean as a whole was mirrored on a smaller scale in the cultural complexities of constituent regions. The highest levels of political development and regional influence were attained by a cluster of polities, including those of the Muisca or Chibcha, situated in highland basins of the Cordillera Oriental. The Cordillera de Merida or Venezuelan Andes stretches north-east along the southern end of the lake and then, under the name of the Cordillera de la Costa, runs parallel to the Caribbean coast of northern Venezuela. The richness and diversity of natural resources and the circumscribing factors inherent in rugged topography influenced the development of rank societies in the mountainous islands of the Greater Antilles, as they did elsewhere in the circum-Caribbean.
  • 3 - Andean societies before 1532
    pp 59-90
    • By John Murra, Cornell University and Institute of Andean Research, New York
  • View abstract


    Andean region was invaded by Francisco Pizarro's troops in 1532. A major step in the scientific understanding of Andean geography came in the late twenties when the German scholar, Carl Troll, did fieldwork in Bolivia. Andean agriculture has begun to attract the attention of agronomists. Dispersed settlement patterns were a feature of Andean territoriality which Europeans noticed early. The Early Horizon, also known as the Formative in the Andes, centred on Chavin, a temple at 3,135 metres altitude in the eastern highlands; best known for its religious art. Oral tradition in the Andes agrees with archaeology that the Late Intermediate period, the centuries just before the Inka expansion, had been awqa runa. The rapid expansion of Tawantinsuyu over 4,000 kilometres from what today is Ecuador in the north to Chile and Argentina in the south implied changes in the basic and ancient dimensions of Andean organization.
  • 4 - The Indians of southern South America in the middle of the sixteenth century
    pp 91-118
  • View abstract


    At the time of the European invasion into South America, the southern cone presents at first sight a confusing array of different and shifting ethnic and social groups. This chapter discusses the ecological complementarity of different peoples, each in a particular environment, or establishing settlements in different niches; many of them nomadic, some transhumant, and in some cases so specialized economically that their livelihood depended on a complex and far-reaching circulation of subsistence goods. The three cultural areas of the southern cone are: southern Andean agriculturists; lowland hunter-gatherers and cultivators of the Chaco, inter-fluvial and littoral regions; and hunters, gatherers and fishers of the Pampa, Patagonia and the southern Archipelago. Among the hunting societies, the social organization of the seafarers was egalitarian. The hunting, gathering and fishing peoples of the south had no products of interest to the Europeans and they could not be enticed off their lands by the colonizers by means of economic incentives.
  • 6 - The Spanish Conquest and settlement of America
    pp 147-206
  • View abstract


    Fifteenth-century Europe was a society suffering from the economic and social dislocations caused by the ravages of the Black Death. The problem that faced the crown and its agents in Hispaniola prefigured in miniature the problem that underlay the whole Spanish enterprise in America. The continuing decline of Hispaniola's indigenous and imported non-white population elicited two distinctive responses, each with major consequences for the future of Spanish America. It provoked, in the first place, a powerful movement of moral indignation, both in the island itself and in metropolitan Spain. The movement was led by Dominicans horrified by the conditions they found on the island on their arrival in 1510. By the middle of the sixteenth century there were probably around 100,000 whites in Spanish America. By the middle of the sixteenth century Spanish America was a very different world from the one that had been envisaged in the immediate aftermath of conquest.
  • 7 - The Indian and the Spanish Conquest
    pp 207-248
    • By Nathan Wachtel, Élicole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris
  • View abstract


    This chapter examines the effects of the Spanish invasion on the Aztec and Inca empires during the first stage of colonial rule with particular emphasis on the case of the Andes. It looks at the peripheral areas, north of the central Mexican plateau, south and south-east of the central Andes, in order to present the broadest possible picture of the 'vision of the vanquished'. The Spanish victory was helped by the political and ethnic divisions of the Indian world: the Aztec and Inca empires had themselves been built up by successive conquests. The extension of the mitmaq system, applied within the framework of the ethnic group, constituted one of the most remarkable achievements of the Inca Empire. Under colonial rule, native traditions were confronted by newly introduced European practices. In the religious sphere, the Indians' fidelity to their traditions expressed their rejection of colonial rule, although there were differences.
  • 8 - The Portuguese settlement of Brazil, 1500–80
    pp 249-286
  • View abstract


    Late medieval Europe had long been linked with Asia via tenuous land routes, as had Asia with America across the Pacific, but it was not until the Portuguese thrust into the Atlantic early in the fifteenth century that the last great oceanic hiatus in global intercommunication came to be closed. The Portuguese thrust outward, however, was not limited to pushing down the west coast of Africa, important though that finally proved to be. These sailings inevitably brought them into contact with the islands of the Atlantic, nearby Madeira and the Canaries to begin with, the Azores and the Cape Verdes later. In the context of Portugal's prior Atlantic experience, the nature of Brazil was ambiguous. In most respects, it appeared to be simply another Atlantic island, but unlike Madeira or the Azores, it was populated by savage though comely natives. During the factory period, Portuguese relations with the Indians had been generally amicable.
  • 9 - Spain and America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
    pp 287-340
  • View abstract


    Spain's conquest of America created the possibility of the first genuinely world-wide empire in human history. The New Laws of 1542 institutionalized the new vice regal system of government: the kingdoms of Peru and New Spain are to be ruled and governed by viceroys who represent the royal person. Viceroys, governors and audiencias formed the upper level of secular administration in the Indies. The emphasis of local government on the town was characteristic of life in the Indies as a whole. A cabildo, however, was not only an institution of local self government and a corporation in which the rivalries of the principal local families were played out. The sense of disillusionment about the value of the Indies stood in sharp contrast to the sixteenth-century assumption that the conquest of America was a special signal of God's favour for Castile. In 1624 an expedition organized by the newly founded Dutch West India Company seized Bahia in Brazil.
  • 10 - Spain and America: the Atlantic trade, 1492–1720
    pp 341-388
  • View abstract


    Spain and its American empire, Old World and New, were linked by the Atlantic Ocean. This chapter explores Atlantic trade during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Spain and Portugal enjoyed a great advantage among the nations of western Europe in their possession of the coast and its estuaries between Lisbon and the Rio Guadalquivir. In the Spanish-American colonies shipbuilding began early, with the Pacific coast leading the way. Portuguese ships on the African coast in the fifteenth century usually carried some fifteen small cannons. Between 1660 and 1689, English shipping grew rapidly in quantity and tonnage. Much of its growth was in large ocean-going ships rather than in small coastal vessels. The Atlantic link between Spain and its American colonies was at once a major result of the expansion of Europe and a reinforcement of it. It was also both a result and a reinforcement of monopolistic mercantilism.
  • 11 - Bourbon Spain and its American empire
    pp 389-440
  • View abstract


    In colonial trade, Cadiz acted as a mere entrepot for the exchange of American bullion for European merchandise. The accession of Philip V under challenge of civil war and foreign invasion enabled his French advisors to lay the foundations of an absolutist state with remarkable rapidity. In the New World the Bourbon state proved remarkably successful both in safeguarding its frontiers and in the exploitation of colonial resources. The revival of Spanish power during the reign of Charles III in large measure derived from the efflorescence in trade with the Indies, and from the increased revenue which it yielded. The centre-piece of the administrative revolution in government was the introduction of intendants, officials who embodied all the executive, interventionist ambitions of the Bourbon state. For the American empire the enforcement of the British blockade offered proof of the inability of Spain to protect the interests of its colonial subjects.
  • 12 - Portugal and Brazil: political and economic structures of empire, 1580–1750
    pp 441-468
  • View abstract


    The economic and social structure was dominated by the merchant-king who possessed the monopoly of trade. The social structure of Portugal was unlike any other in Europe not only because of the important part played by the king in the economy and the lack of a national bourgeoisie in the accepted sense of the term but also because, as Albert Silbert has pointed out, Portugal had not experienced the feudal system. The Portuguese crown also gained strength from its religious and cultural role. The municipal organization of Salvador may be taken as typical of urban administration in Brazil. The first municipal council was created in 1549, at the time of the foundation of the city. The crisis in the Brazilian sugar industry in the 1680s after a century of growth and prosperity triggered off an economic crisis in Portugal. The Brazilian gold cycle had an important impact on the Atlantic trade, the slave trade from Africa.
  • 13 - Portugal and Brazil: imperial re-organization, 1750–1808
    pp 469-508
  • View abstract


    This chapter provides a survey of the Portuguese empire which shows how accurate Luís da Cunha's statement remained at the accession of Dom José I in 1750, and explains the policy adopted with regard to Brazil during the second half of the eighteenth century. Various Portuguese settlements along the west coast of Africa had been either repeatedly attacked by foreigners or else the scene of local riots, notably in the Cape Verde islands and in Angola. Brazil had suffered two civil wars namely, the War of the Emboabas in the gold mines of the Rio das Mortes, and the War of the Mascates at Recife and two attacks by the Spanish on the outpost of Colônia do Sacramento at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata. The municipalities represented an important sector of the Brazilian born population and were a potential source of conflict with Lisbon.
  • 14 - The Catholic church in colonial Spanish America
    pp 509-540
  • View abstract


    This chapter discusses the establishment and organization of the Catholic Church in the Americas in the sixteenth century and considers the conditions in the Iberian Peninsula at the time. The church in the New World was thus the outcome of the merging of two currents. One was the transplantation of the characteristics of the church in the Iberian Peninsula in the era of the discoveries; the other was the ratification of these characteristics by the Council of Trent. The female religious orders were born on American soil and appear not as a transplantation from the metropolis but as an autonomous local product. Two of the American women who have achieved official canonization belong to Franciscan category, St Rose of Lima and St Mariana de Jesus. Both of them correspond to a peculiarly Iberian type of devotion which had in itself little connection with the specific problems of Christianity in colonial Spanish America.
  • 15 - The Catholic church in colonial Brazil
    pp 541-556
  • View abstract


    The history of the church in Brazil has traditionally been open to two basic interpretations. The first interpretation stems from the attitude of the original colonizer. The second interpretation is attributable to the people who suffered the consequences of the labour demands of the European settlers. There were three predominant religious orders in the Amazon region: the Carmelites, Franciscans and Jesuits. The organization of dioceses and parishes was slow and their influence on Catholic practice in Brazil for a long time minimal. In order to understand the process by which a Christian society developed in Brazil it is important to recognize the problems faced by Portugal when undertaking its colonial enterprise in America. The church was an agent of social control in colonial Brazil in a number of important ways. The church was called upon to create a general climate of agreement in favour of slavery.
  • Bibliographical essays
    pp 557-624
  • View abstract


    This bibliography presents a list of titles that help the reader to understand the archaeology and ethnohistory of Mesoamerica and the north of Mexico, from 1514 to 1960. Religion and world view in Mesoamerica have been better approached during the two last decades through the analysis of the indigenous manuscripts and the findings of archaeology. Several of the major sixteenth-century European chroniclers of Spanish exploration and settlement in the New World provide primary material concerning the native customs of the Greater Antilles, northern Venezuela, the northern half of Colombia, and lower Central America. Architects have recently made major advances in the description, measurement and interpretation of Andean urbanism. A special feature of Andean historiography is the search for explanations of the rapid collapse of the Inka state after 1532. The social anthropology of the tribes before the European conquest should be deduced by reference to studies of modern tribes.


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