In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources and Databases
  • Metropolitan Societies and Trade
  • Brazil and the Portuguese Empire
  • Prices, Regulations, and Local Markets
  • Iberian Trade in the Atlantic World
  • Trade in Frontiers
  • Commodities

Latin American Studies Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750
Fabrício Prado
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 June 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0101


The reconnection of the Americas to Eurasia and Africa carried by Iberian empires provoked dramatic changes in societies on both sides of the Atlantic basin. The conquest and colonization of the Americas, along with the formation of colonial societies, occurred within the context of the rise of commercial capitalism and the emergence of Atlantic economies. Between 1500 and 1750, Europeans, Africans, and Amerindians built an Atlantic community structured around commerce. Spain and Portugal took the vanguard in building colonial societies in the Americas. Meanwhile, trade between Latin American colonies and their metropoles was a crucial factor enabling European markets to profit from the riches of the New World and beyond. The Portuguese Empire was built around commerce and navigation. The 20th- and early-21st-century scholarship on Iberian trade between 1500 and 1750 examines the economic and social role of trade in the construction of empires and in the formation of colonial societies. Although numerous, the relative scarcity of works analyzing trade for this period is noteworthy, especially in comparison to the number of studies devoted to trade in the late colonial period. In this bibliography, works have been selected representing the major debates and topics that have captured the attention of historians of trade in the Iberian Atlantic. Moreover, this bibliography aims to represent the main contributions from different historiographical traditions, from Latin America, Europe, and North America. Historians have departed from interpretations privileging official documents and the mercantilist characteristics of the Iberian empires to more complex explicative models that incorporate documents from Latin American archives and argue for the crucial role of intercolonial and interimperial trade circuits in shaping Iberian empires. From the 1960s to the 1980s, economic and social historians devoted more attention to the study of Iberian trade. The works produced from the 1980s onward were marked by the emergence of Atlantic history and the cultural turn. As a result, quantitative and economic studies are less numerous than in the previous decades, while historians integrated Iberian commerce in the broad Atlantic paying more attention to social networks and the experiences of historical agents. Due to the political and institutional organization of academic research and archives, within the thematic categories the reader may find works focusing on specific regions. This list does not exhaust the topic but rather provides an introductory overview for scholars of Iberian commerce in the Early Modern period.

General Overviews

Trade was a defining aspect of Iberian imperialism in the Atlantic world. Nonetheless, few works present general overviews of trade in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires together. As a result of nationalistic and institutional biases, or due the vast and diverse geography encompassed by the Iberian empires, few general overviews of trade and commerce in the Early Modern period tend to focus on the Spanish and Portuguese together. Specific studies focusing on both Iberian empires separately are numerous. General overviews of Iberian trade between 1500 and 1750 can be divided into two large groups of scholarship. The first comprises literature connecting trade to the development of empire, thus shaping metropolitan and colonial societies. The second group of general overviews takes a quantitative perspective detailing overseas trade between Iberian metropoles and their Latin American colonies. In this bibliography, the selected works emphasize the role of trade in empire building, omitting studies that focus on political and cultural aspects primarily.

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