In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Colonial Peru

  • Introduction
  • General Works
  • Foundational Studies of Conquest and Colonization
  • Historical Archaeology
  • Economic Studies
  • Demography
  • Early Viceregal Administration
  • Viceregal Administration during the Bourbon Period
  • Urbanization
  • Social Identities in the Colonial World
  • Slavery
  • The Late Colonial Rebellions

Latin American Studies Colonial Peru
Karen B. Graubart, María Cecilia Ulrickson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 December 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0189


The Andean region, consisting of the modern states of Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador and extending from the Amazonian jungles to the Pacific coast, was conquered by Spanish forces beginning in 1532 and was constituted thereafter as the viceroyalty of Peru. Conquest was slow and was interrupted by a civil war between Spanish factions and by a long uprising by members of the Inca elite, who created a government in exile in Vilcabamba that was violently dislodged in 1571. As in other regions, Spanish colonial rule largely consisted of requiring tribute and labor (predominantly mining) from indigenous communities, as well as obliging some form of Christian education. In the 1570s, under Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, many aspects of those requirements were standardized, and dispersed communities were “reduced” to small towns but were largely allowed to govern themselves in daily matters. An important literature emerged beginning in the 1980s that focused on the ways that indigenous communities faced these changes, in response to an older narrative about decline and degradation. These monographs argue that colonial rule was a challenge that was met by creative engagement, which often had results deleterious to indigenous autonomy. More recently, these studies have been joined by analyses of the contributions of African slaves from the Atlantic slave trade, working mainly on coastal haciendas and in cities, and the effects of their frequent manumission on colonial social relations. The exploitation of the silver mountain at Potosí made Peru the most valuable piece of the Spanish Empire in the 16th century, and that, along with concomitant transatlantic commerce and the ever-growing apparatus of rule, created Lima as the capital city of South America. Literatures on the development of bureaucratic networks of local and imperial governance and on the attendant cultures of baroque pomp and urbanization have spoken both to Lima’s centrality and to the fragility of its governance. Economic decline caused by the slowing of silver production and general colonial mismanagement led to the Bourbon reforms of the 18th century, which also set the stage for five decades of indigenous revolts, culminating in the Tupac Amaru and Tupac Katari revolts in the southern Andes. The unsuccessful revolts galvanized the imaginations of the indigenous majority and the Creole minority and deeply colored the response of each to the movements for independence from Spanish rule in the 19th century.

General Works

There are few textbooks addressing the colonial period. Andrien 2001 is a useful exception, with a focus on social history and the indigenous perspective on events. There are, however, exceptional collections of scholarly articles and bibliographic essays available as introductions to the field. Salomon and Schwartz 1999, an updating of the Cambridge series, is a masterful survey of the historical and archaeological/anthropological scholarship of the 20th century. Pillsbury 2008, an extraordinary guide to sources, goes even deeper, with bibliographic essays on key authors, texts, and types of documents and visual resources, including editions and archival locations. All these present multidisciplinary approaches that integrate visual arts as well as textual works.

  • Andrien, Kenneth J. Andean Worlds: Indigenous History, Culture, and Consciousness under Spanish Rule, 1532–1825. Diálogos. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.

    A synthetic, multidisciplinary textbook examining indigenous history in the Andes from the Inca Empire until independence. Readable yet sophisticated, with good introductions to methodological issues and sources, although its thematic organization may limit its utility as a textbook.

  • Pillsbury, Joanne, ed. Guide to Documentary Sources for Andean Studies, 1530–1900. 3 vols. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.

    An erudite and richly illustrated guide to the visual and literary texts produced in the Andes after the Spanish conquest. The first volume features concise essays by experts on different genres (e.g., chronicles, legal texts, church documents, quipus). The second and third volumes are essays on particular texts or authors, with bibliographic information.

  • Salomon, Frank, and Stuart B. Schwartz, eds. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Vol. 3.1–2, South America. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    Two-volume introduction to history and historiography of the region, including essays on indigenous people under colonial rule. Superb essays by Salomon (on reading sources), Sabine MacCormack (on ethnography), Karen Spalding (on early colonial transformations), and Luis Glave (on the revolts), among many other excellent introductions to the scholarship.

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