Santo Domingo became the first permanent European colony and city in the Americas (1495–1496). As the local Taínos encountered waves of Spanish invaders after the arrival of Christopher Columbus, colonial Santo Domingo and the island of Hispaniola (a region called Ayiti or Quisqueya by its then inhabitants) sank into a series of foreboding firsts of European colonialism in the Americas. Santo Domingo was the first site of mass indigenous forced labor, die-offs, and coerced conversions. It was home to the first boom-and-bust cycles in both gold and sugar, was a base for Spanish expansion across the region, and the location of initial African enslavement and slave revolts in the Western Hemisphere. Though Spanish profits surged from other parts of their sprawling empire in the Americas, Santo Domingo remained a hub of governance and religiosity given the presence of the Audiencia and Arzobispado in the city. Santo Domingo in the Age of Revolutions again became pivotal to salient points of dawning political modernity due to its frontier on Hispaniola with the revolutionary French (after 1789) and the even more radical Haitian state (after 1804). After the start of the Haitian Revolution (1791) in particular, Dominicans and Spanish officials were at the forefront of debates over abolition, secularism, and republicanism. In the ensuing seventy years of near-constant political turmoil, slaves gained emancipation in neighboring Saint-Domingue (1793), the French Republic occupied Santo Domingo (1802–1809), and an elite and moderate Dominican independence project (1821) was supplanted by Haitian annexation with popular appeal (1822). Despite efforts at decolonization and the establishment of the Dominican Republic (1844), remnants of Hispanic nostalgia resurfaced in elite politics to define Dominicans as protectors of Spanish culture. Spanish recolonization (1861–1865) prompted mass Dominican dissent over the fear of reenslavement and ended in the reestablishment of an independent Dominican Republic with support of regional neighbors, like Haiti. In more-recent years, scholarship has moved beyond dated, top-down accounts of the colonial era that often serviced elite Dominican nationalism, and in the mid-20th century the Trujillo dictatorship’s antihaitianismo and hispanismo, which lingered through the many years of Balaguer and beyond. This scholarly turn nuances our understandings of Dominican race and slavery, revolutionary connectivity, and solidarity with Haitians, which in sum supplement persistently relevant works related to political, institutional, economic, and military histories of the Spanish Empire. Scholarship on colonial Santo Domingo could still benefit from gender studies and environmental histories.
Although no single book or article distinguishes itself as the definitive source on Santo Domingo, several noteworthy works listed here contribute overarching interpretations of the topic. Well-known general narratives that attempt to explain the continuities of Spanish Santo Domingo into the national era include Moya Pons 1998, San Miguel 2006, and Bosch 1970. Contemporary narratives on Santo Domingo include views from the Spanish side (Sánchez Valverde 1785) and French side (Moreau de Saint-Méry 1796).
Bosch, Juan. Composición social dominicana: Historia e interpretación. Santo Domingo: Alfa & Omega, 1970.
This book, written by acclaimed Dominican novelist and one-time president Juan Bosch, attempted to track the social inequalities in Dominican class struggles and economic formations dating from early Spanish Santo Domingo through the 20th century.
Eller, Anne. “‘Awful Pirates’ and ‘Hordes of Jackals’: Santo Domingo/The Dominican Republic in Nineteenth-Century Historiography.” Small Axe 44 (July 2014): 80–94.
This essay moves beyond presentations of 19th-century Santo Domingo (and later the Dominican Republic) as an outlier of regional trends or connections. Rather than privileging elite Dominican projections of nation or their sometimes acrimonious rhetoric, it asks scholars to consider new sources or interrogate the old more critically to find popular voices and the multitudinous regional solidarities that are frequently silenced.
Moreau de Saint-Méry, Médéric Louis Elie. Description topographique et politique de la partie espagnole de l’isle Saint-Domingue: avec des observations générales sur le climat, la population, les productions, le caractère & les moeurs des habitans de cette colonie, & un tableau raisonné des différentes parties de son administration: accompaneée d’une nouvelle carte de la totalité de l’isle. Vols. 1 and 2. Philadelphia: Author, 1796.
As with the well-known studies of French Saint-Domingue before the revolution that Moreau de Saint-Méry published from exile in Philadelphia, the French Caribbean chronicler studied (albeit with less familiarity) the colony that he lived beside for so long—Santo Domingo. The book offers anecdotes and data about life in Santo Domingo and ties across Hispaniola in the years just before the Haitian Revolution.
Moya Pons, Frank. The Dominican Republic: A National History. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 1998.
For an overview of Dominican history that links colonial Spanish Santo Domingo through the late 20th century, this book is a must-have. It is a largely political, diplomatic, and economic narrative on all eras of Dominican history, though it delves less into earlier chronologies. It offers an ample bibliography with works before its date of publication.
Roorda, Eric Paul, Lauren Derby, and Raymundo González. The Dominican Republic Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.
This rich source collection of speeches, journalism, poetry, court records, anecdotes, and literature spans Dominican history. The first sections pertain directly to Spanish Santo Domingo.
San Miguel, Pedro. The Imagined Island: History, Identity, and Utopia in Hispaniola. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
This book is a study of Dominican intellectuals and national identity and includes ample discussion of cultural ideas of difference from Haiti and Spain dating to the end of colonial Santo Domingo.
Sánchez Valverde, Antonio. Idea del valor de la isla Española. Madrid: Pedro Marin, 1785.
This book was an appeal from a prominent priest in Santo Domingo to the Spanish crown asking for resource reinvestment in the colony. Beyond his elitist take on popular culture, it contains many interesting anecdotes about daily life in the colony on the cusp of the Age of Revolutions. A recurring theme is how Spanish officials could reinvigorate Dominican slavery to match the opulence of neighboring French Saint-Domingue.
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