Colonial Central America
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 21 November 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0076
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 21 November 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0076
Throughout the colonial period, Central America existed in the shadow of Mexico. The Spanish Empire’s preoccupation with its economic, political, and religious interests in Mexico afforded a certain degree of autonomy to those living and governing in Central America. Perhaps in part because of Spain’s limited interest in Central America, the historiography of the region remained sparse until the 1980s. The recent fluorescence in Central American colonial historiography can be traced to the 1970s with the publication of Severo Martínez Peláez’s La Patria del Criollo (see Martínez Peláez 2009) and Murdo MacLeod’s Spanish Central America (MacLeod 2008), both cited under General Overviews. Radically different in their approaches, sources, methods, and analysis, these two works became the foundations upon which future studies of colonial Central America were built. Extensively using literary works (particularly Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzmán’s Recordación Florida [Fuentes y Guzmán 1933], cited under Primary Sources and Translations), Martínez Peláez applied a Marxist analysis to his study of Guatemala. In his examination of the formation of social classes, large landowners’ exploitation, and what he called the creation of indios as laborers rather than an ethnic group, Martínez Peláez argued that the same exploitative relations that dominated the colonial era continued to rule modern-day Guatemala. In contrast, MacLeod turned to archival documents to demonstrate change over time and across regions in Central America during the colonial era. The influence of the French school associated with the Annales is notable in MacLeod’s focus on monocultural export production, Spain’s 17th-century “depression,” and other aspects of economic and demographic shifts during the colonial period. MacLeod’s impact is reflected in the demographic studies of colonial Central America that followed his groundbreaking book (see Lutz 1994 and Lovell 2005, both cited under Guatemala; Newson 1986, cited under El Salvador and Honduras; and Newson 1987, cited under Nicaragua). The 1992 Quinto Centenario that marked the five-hundred-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World further spurred research on colonial Central America. As one example, more than two hundred researchers participated in the first Congreso Centroamericano de Historia (Central American History conference) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 1992. Beginning with the Fourth Congress in 1998, participants established a regular roundtable about colonial history. Because the majority of scholarship over the last three decades has tended to focus on the initial contact and early 16th century and the period after 1720, 16th- and 17th-century Central America is ripe with opportunities. Beyond a few fine studies, some of the best of which focus on the African presence in Central America (see Lokken 2001, cited under Society and Religion; Lokken 2004, cited under El Salvador and Honduras; and Cáceres Gómez 2000, cited under Costa Rica), the field is wide open.
The pathbreaking work of MacLeod 2008 notwithstanding, no book-length general synthesis of colonial Central America exists. Parts of some volumes, such as chapters 2 through 4 in Woodward 1999, and the collection of essays on the colonial era in Torres-Rivas 1994 offer nice introductions to the period and region, but a comprehensive synthesis continues to elude scholars. With its interdisciplinary approach, MacLeod’s monograph comes closest to a book-length synthesis in English, but the plethora of fine regional studies since its publication begs for an updated and broader study of Central America that takes its reader up to the time of Central American independence. For the most part, the general overviews mentioned below tend to focus on certain aspects of colonial rule to the exclusion of others. Wortman 1982 laid the groundwork for studies of politics and society with a particular focus on Bourbon rule. Dym and Belaubre 2007 expands, complicates, and at times contradicts Wortman’s analysis for the Bourbon era. As the colonial seat, Guatemala came to dominate colonial Central America. So the in-depth studies of colonial Guatemala (Jones 1994, Luján Muñoz 1996) offer insight into the region more broadly. Hall and Pérez Brignoli 2003 offers a window onto Central America’s colonial geography and cartography.
Dym, Jordana, and Christophe Belaubre, eds. Politics, Economy, and Society in Bourbon Central America, 1759–1821. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2007.
As this collection of essays demonstrates, political, economic, and social changes often occurred irrespective of imperial mandates. Seldom systematic or coherent, the Bourbon reforms often had only a negligible impact in colonial Central America. Contributors arrive at this portrayal by examining schools, the Catholic Church, municipal governments, elites, gender relations, and alcohol. Good for undergraduates.
Hall, Carolyn, and Héctor Pérez Brignoli. Historical Atlas of Central America. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003.
Concisely written, the authors use maps, charts, and tables to convey Central America’s colonial (and modern) period. With its emphasis on historical geography, this volume provides a fresh perspective on Central America’s colonial past. Good for undergraduates.
Jones, Oakah L. Guatemala in the Spanish Colonial Period. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.
This broad survey of colonial Guatemalan history pays close attention to Maya uprisings against colonial rule and the role of the clergy in extending the spiritual conquest of Guatemala.
Luján Muñoz, Jorge, ed. Historia General de Guatemala. 6 vols. Guatemala City: Asociación de Amigos del Pais, Fundación para la Cultura y el Desarrollo, 1996.
Although the focus is on Guatemala, Volumes 2 and 3 cover the colonial period and provide detailed description and astute analysis that are relevant for the region as a whole. Because Guatemala housed the colonial capital of Central America, the political, economic, and social systems extended from there even as their applications differed by location and time. The sections on regional history in each volume underscore this latter point.
MacLeod, Murdo. Spanish Central America: A Socioeconomic History, 1520–1720. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.
First published in 1973, Spanish Central America offers detailed description and analysis of the social and economic forces that shaped Central America in the 16th and 17th centuries. Particularly noteworthy as an early example of interdisciplinary analysis, this book uses concepts from anthropology, demography, geography, and even biology. This 2008 edition includes an informative essay on colonial Central American historiography since the 1970s. Good introductory book.
Martínez Peláez, Severo. La Patria del Criollo: An Interpretation of Colonial Guatemala. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.
An English translation of La Patria del Criollo: Ensayo de interpretación de la realidad colonial Guatemalteca, which was first published in Spanish in 1971 (Guatemala City: Editorial Universitaria de Guatemala). Instead of approaching Guatemalan colonial history as an epic ethnic struggle, Martínez Peláez applied a Marxist framework and emphasized the class struggle and political economy. In addition to studying other injustices, he details the forced labor regimes Guatemalan elites imposed on indigenous peoples. Good for upper-level undergraduates.
Torres-Rivas, Edelberto, ed. Historia general de Centroamérica. 2d ed. San José, Costa Rica: FLACSO, 1994.
Volume 2 (El régimen colonial [1524–1750], ed. Julio César Pinto Soria) and the first chapter (concerned primarily with Bourbon rule) in Volume 3 (De la ilustración al liberalism, ed. Héctor Pérez Brignoli) of this ambitious work cover colonial Central America. Taken together, these two volumes provide a good general history of Central America from 1524 to 1821 with particular attention paid to the economies, societies, and ideologies of colonial rule.
Woodward, Ralph Lee. Central America: A Nation Divided. 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Long considered the standard study of Central American history, this book provides the framework and effects of colonial rule in chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 3 is dedicated to Bourbon rule. Chapter 4 examines the transition to independence. Good for undergraduates.
Wortman, Miles. Government and Society in Central America, 1680–1840. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.
In addition to comprehensive coverage of the Bourbon era in Central America, this study pays close attention to the fiscal structure, particularly the lack of a legal export trade that made the central government dependent largely on tribute until the Bourbon reforms took effect. By highlighting interregional trade with Mexico, Peru, and Cuba, Wortman argues that the 17th-century depression had little if any effect in Central America.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Agricultural Technologies
- Andean Contributions to Rethinking the State and the Natio...
- Antislavery Narratives
- Arab Diaspora in Latin America, The
- Argentina in the Era of Mass Immigration
- Argentina, Slavery in
- Argentine Literature
- Army of Chile in the 19th Century
- Asian Art and Its Impact in the Americas, 1565–1840
- Asian-Peruvian Literature
- Baroque and Neo-baroque Literary Tradition
- Bello, Andrés
- Black Experience in Colonial Latin America, The
- Black Experience in Modern Latin America, The
- Borderlands in Latin America, Conquest of
- Bourbon Reforms, The
- Brazilian Northeast, History of the
- Buenos Aires
- Caribbean Philosophical Association, The
- Caribbean, The Archaeology of the
- Cartagena de Indias
- Caste War of Yucatán, The
- Caudillos, 19th Century
- Cádiz Constitution and Liberalism, The
- Chaco War
- Children, History of
- Chile's Struggle for Independence
- Chronicle, The
- Church in Colonial Latin America, The
- Chávez, Hugo, and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela
- Cinema, Contemporary Brazilian
- Cinema, Latin American
- Colonial Central America
- Colonial Portuguese Amazon Region, from the 17th to 18th C...
- Contemporary Maya, The
- Costa Rica
- Cárdenas and Cardenismo
- Cuban Revolution, The
- Dependency Theory in Latin American History
- Development of Architecture in New Spain, 1500-1810, The
- Development of Painting in Peru, 1520–1820, The
- Drug Trades in Latin America
- Early Colonial Forms of Native Expression in Mexico and Pe...
- Economies from Independence to Industrialization
- Ecuador, La Generación del 30 in
- El Salvador
- Enlightenment and its Visual Manifestations in Spanish Ame...
- Environmental History
- Era of Porfirio Díaz, 1876–1911, The
- Family History
- Film, Science Fiction
- Football (Soccer) in Latin America
- Gender in Colonial Brazil
- Gender in Postcolonial Latin America
- Guatemala and Yucatan, Conquest of
- Guatemala City
- Guatemala (Modern & National Period)
- Haitian Revolution, The
- Health and Disease in Modern Latin America, History of
- History, Cultural
- History, Food
- Honor in Latin America to 1900
- Horror in Literature and Film in Latin America
- Human Rights in Latin America
- Immigration in Latin America
- Indigenous Elites in the Colonial Andes
- Indigenous Population and Justice System in Central Mexico...
- Indigenous Voices in Literature
- Japanese Presence in Latin America
- Jewish Presence in Latin America, The
- Las Casas, Bartolomé de
- Latin American Independence
- Latin American Urbanism, 1850-1950
- Law and Society in Latin America since 1800
- Legal History of New Spain, 16th-17th Centuries
- Legal History of the State and Church in 18th Century New ...
- Literature, Argentinian
- Machado de Assis
- Maroon Societies in Latin America
- Martí, José, and Cuba
- Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas
- Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940, The
- Mexican-US Relations
- Mexico, Conquest of
- Mexico, Education in
- Migration to the United States
- Military and Modern Latin America, The
- Military Government in Latin America, 1959–1990
- Military Institution in Colonial Latin America, The
- Modern Decorative Arts and Design, 1900–2000
- Modern Populism in Latin America
- Modernity and Decoloniality
- Musical Tradition in Latin America, The
- Native Presence in Postconquest Central Peru
- New Conquest History and the New Philology in Colonial Mes...
- New Left in Latin America, The
- Novel, Chronology of the Venezuelan
- Novel of the Mexican Revolution, The
- Novel, 19th Century Haitian
- Novel, The Colombian
- Oaxaca, Conquest and Colonial
- Painting in New Spain, 1521–1820
- Paraguayan War (War of the Triple Alliance)
- Pastoralism in the Andes
- Perón and Peronism
- Peru, Colonial
- Peru, Conquest of
- Peru, Slavery in
- Philippines Under Spanish Rule, 1571-1898
- Photography in the History of Race and Nation
- Political Exile in Latin America
- Popular Culture and Globalization
- Popular Movements in 19th-Century Latin America
- Post Conquest Aztecs
- Post-Conquest Demographic Collapse
- Poverty in Latin America
- Preconquest Incas
- Pre-conquest Mesoamerican States, The
- Pre-Revolutionary Mexico, State and Nation Formation in
- Printing and the Book
- Prints and the Circulation of Colonial Images
- Protestantism in Latin America
- Religions in Latin America
- Revolution and Reaction in Central America
- Rosas, Juan Manuel de
- Sandinista Revolution and the FSLN, The
- Santo Domingo
- Science and Empire in the Iberian Atlantic
- Sexualities in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Slavery in Brazil
- São Paulo
- Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750
- Spanish Caribbean In The Colonial Period, The
- Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825
- Spanish Florida
- Telenovelas and Melodrama in Latin America
- Textile Traditions of the Andes
- 16th-Century New Spain
- Transculturation and Literature
- Trujillo, Rafael
- Tupac Amaru Rebellion, The
- United States and Castro's Cuba in the Cold War, The
- United States and the Guatemalan Revolution, The
- United States Invasion of the Dominican Republic, 1961–196...
- Urban History
- Urbanization in the 20th Century, Latin America’s
- U.S.-Latin American Relations During the Cold War
- Vargas, Getúlio
- Women and Labor in 20th-Century Latin America
- Women in Colonial Latin American History
- Women in Modern Latin American History
- Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas