In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Northern New Spain

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Geography and Environment
  • Primary Sources and Translations
  • Frontiers with Mesoamerica and Early Contacts
  • Mission Communities
  • Presidios and Military Encounters
  • Colonial Economy and Society
  • Art, Music, and Science
  • Transitions to Nationhood, from New Spain to Mexico

Atlantic History Northern New Spain
Cynthia Radding
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0124


The regional identity of northern New Spain derives from its geographical and ecological foundations, the history of Indian-European encounters and co-existence over more than three centuries, the economic framework for its integration into the wider colonial economy, and the cultural mores and values that shaped its ethnically heterogeneous society. “North” is meaningful in this context as a cardinal direction, indicating the lands and peoples in the generally arid environments that spread northward from the subtropical valleys and mountain plateaus that nurtured highly developed agricultural and urban cultures in central and southern Mexico. In addition, “Northern” became a metaphor to express the relationship of this region to the central core of the viceroyalty of New Spain, so closely identified with the cultural legacy of Mesoamerica. Thus, “northern New Spain”—or el gran septentrión in Spanish—has come to signify the spatial identity and the historical development of this region within the vast territorial dominions claimed by Spain in North America. Northern New Spain is closely associated in the historical and anthropological literature with the imperial and interethnic borderlands that so marked military, political, and cultural relations across different peoples and territories; yet its connotation underscores its integration with the economy, society, and colonial governance of the viceroyalty itself. These different meanings for northern New Spain, bolstered by a cluster of disciplines and fields of study, reflect the selection of works included in this article. The selection criteria used for building this bibliography recognizes the scholarship produced in different intellectual and national settings through the inclusion of published works in both Spanish and English, in order to illustrate a wide range of themes and approaches to the history and culture of the region and represent a deep chronological range of scholarly production.

General Overviews

Northern New Spain has a robust bibliography of general overviews and comparative studies, written by single authors and by teams of cross-disciplinary scholars from history, geography, anthropology, and similar fields, published in Spanish and English. The works selected for this section represent three decades of research produced on northern New Spain and its place in the borderlands literature. Collective works begin with Acuña, et al. 1986, a comprehensive annotated bibliography for northern Mexico; Guy and Sheridan 1998 brings together original research on the borderlands of both North and South America; De la Teja and Frank 2005 is an edited volume devoted to colonial northern New Spain that emphasizes social and cultural themes; Barr and Countryman 2014 provides an expansive view of borderlands in North and South America, encompassing migratory patterns, disputed territories, and ethnogenesis. Among single-authored studies, Powell 1952 remains a classic work on the early mining frontier in northern Mexico and the Chichimec wars that marked 16th-century Spanish invasions of the northern arid lands; Jiménez 2006 provides an analysis of cultural encounters and selected documents to support his interpretations; Del Río 2009 covers representative topics of social and economic history for colonial New Spain; Weber 1992 and Weber 2005 provide deeply researched syntheses of Hispanic-Indigenous frontiers in both North and South America.

  • Acuña, Clemencia Benignos, David Piñera Ramírez, and Cynthia Radding de Murrieta, et al. Mil tres textos sobre la historia de la frontera norte. Mexico City: Comité Mexicano de Ciencias Históricas, 1986.

    This annotated bibliography covers northern Mexico from Baja California to Tamaulipas. Its citations are not restricted to New Spain, but many of them cover the colonial period. The material is organized by state, and each section is preceded by a historical map. Authors include Clemencia Benignos Acuña, Eligio Moisés Coronado, Armando B. Chávez, Eduardo Enríquez Terrazas, Rocío González Maíz, Carlos González Salas, Leticia Martínez Cárdenas, David Piñera Ramírez, and Cynthia Radding de Murrieta.

  • Barr, Juliana, and Edward Countryman, eds. Contested Spaces of Early America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014.

    Original essays to honor the mentorship and scholarship of the late David J. Weber, who contributed to the development of borderlands studies. The chapters cover selected regions of both North and South America, but the work as a whole contributes to the history and culture of northern New Spain.

  • De la Teja, Jesús F., and R. Frank, eds. Choice, Persuasion, and Coercion. Social Control on Spain’s North American Frontiers. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.

    This comparative view of northern New Spain from Florida to the Californias organized the histories around the central theme of social control. In different ways they identified degrees of local autonomy (choice) within the framework of an imperial borderland with porous boundaries and competing actors who aspired to gain power.

  • Del Río, Ignacio. Estudios históricos sobre la formación del norte de México. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, 2009.

    The essays selected for this publication represent the innovative work that Ignacio del Río contributed to the historiography of northern New Spain and the methodology for researching and writing regional history. The topics range from early-16th-century through mid-to-late colonial labor regimes, the mining industry, commerce and finance, and early 19th-century development in the Californias. Javier Manríquez, Juan Domingo Vidargas, and Israel Rodríguez assisted with the edition.

  • Guy, Donna J., and Thomas E. Sheridan, eds. Contested Ground: Comparative Frontiers on the Northern and Southern Edges of the Spanish Empire. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1998.

    This collaborative work provides a model for comparative studies of imperial borderlands within the Spanish and Portuguese dominions of the Americas. Northern New Spain is well represented in this volume through individual chapters and comparative references throughout the book. The texts are enhanced by four detailed regional maps.

  • Jiménez, Alfredo. El gran norte de México: Una frontera imperial en la Nueva España (1540–1820). Madrid: Editorial Tébar, S. L, 2006.

    Provides a thoroughly researched overview of northern New Spain, with maps, illustrations, bibliography, and an extensive list of documents consulted in the Archivo General de Indias. Divided in two parts, the first is dedicated to the historical and cultural narrative of Spanish and indigenous encounters; the second brings to the reader selected excerpts of colonial documents with the author’s explanatory framework.

  • Powell, Philip W. Soldiers, Indians, and Silver: The Northward Advance of Northern New Spain, 1550–1600. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1952.

    This foundational study dates from over half a century; yet, it remains a point of reference for research on northern New Spain and the Spanish borderlands in North America because of Powell’s thorough archival work and his flair for writing an engaging narrative.

  • Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

    Published in 1992 to commemorate the five-hundredth anniversary of the Columbian encounter, this master narrative of the Spanish borderlands in North America has become a standard reference for students and scholars of Latin America and the United States. Beautifully illustrated, this eminently readable history is organized both chronologically and by region, providing deeply researched histories across the binational border between Mexico and the United States, from California to Florida.

  • Weber, David J. Bárbaros: Spaniards and their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005.

    Weber’s last major publication, this was his most ambitious work. Organized as a broad comparative narrative, it focuses on the idea of Indians deemed by Spaniards as bárbaros, beyond the borders of empire in both North and South America. It contributes to the history of northern New Spain in its exploration of changing imperial policies toward nomadic peoples that moved in and out of colonial domains and institutions.

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