The colonial period in Guatemalan history is customarily dated from 1524 to 1821. During that time, Guatemala was the most populous and most prosperous of the provinces that made up the kingdom, or audiencia, of Guatemala, a district that stretched from Chiapas in the west to Costa Rica in the east. The largest single element in the colonial population consisted of native Mayas, but transatlantic contact added other important groups to the mix, among them Spaniards, ladinos (as mestizos are called in Guatemala), and Afro-descendants. Guatemala’s multiracial past offers multiple historical experiences for scholarly exploration. A challenge confronting any scholar of the colonial period is the need to distinguish clearly among the many different uses to which the place name Guatemala has been put. In addition to the province and the kingdom, both called Guatemala, there are two important cities. Often called simply Guatemala City, Santiago de Guatemala was the capital of both the province and the kingdom from 1524 until 1773, when severe earthquake damage led authorities in Spain to order its abandonment and a new city built some forty kilometers away. Known officially as Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, the new capital remains the center of government in Guatemala and is also commonly referred to as Guatemala City. For its part, the old city remained inhabited and is now known as Antigua Guatemala. Finally, the term Guatemala may also refer to the Valley of Guatemala, actually a complex of nine fertile and well-watered valleys whose dense native population, sometimes laboring alongside enslaved Africans, worked to produce maize, wheat, sugar, livestock, and other consumer goods for local and regional markets. Given the dominant role played in isthmian life by the old and new cities and their surrounding valleys, it should not surprise readers to learn that many works about Central America in the colonial period are, in fact, mostly about Guatemala. As it happens, the country itself has a long tradition of historical writing going back to Santiago de Guatemala’s most renowned 16th-century resident, Bernal Díaz del Castillo. During the colonial and early national periods, writers of history tended to be ecclesiastics, civil servants, attorneys, and other amateurs. About the middle of the 20th century, however, professionally trained historians began to enter the field. Works by pioneer professionals, such as Chinchilla Aguilar 1999, cited under Institutions), Samayoa Guevara 1978, cited under Institutions), and Lanning 1955, under Institutions), made significant contributions to institutional history. With the publication in the 1970s of watershed studies by Martínez Peláez 2010) and MacLeod 2008, all cited under General Overviews), historical production on Guatemala’s colonial past began to expand rapidly in both quantity and quality. It remains, however, a field of broad opportunity, offering abundant primary sources and many topics partially or completely unexplored.
The only book-length survey of colonial Guatemalan history is Jones 1994. Torres Rivas 1994 and Luján Muñoz 1993–1999 offer detailed treatments, with the latter providing much more extensive coverage of key issues in the field. The anthologies Webre 1989 and Herrera and Webre 2013 serve as good guides to trends in colonial historiography over the years. Originally published in the 1970s, MacLeod 2008 and Martínez Peláez 2010 continue to be essential preparatory reading for any colonial-era research project. Wortman 1982 supplements MacLeod and offers a different interpretation of some key issues. Finally Woodward 1999 and Woodward 2008 remain the standard general accounts of Guatemalan history in English.
Herrera, Robinson A., and Stephen Webre, eds. La época colonial en Guatemala: Estudios de historia social y cultural. Guatemala City: Editorial Universitaria, Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, 2013.
Collected essays deal with conflict in Maya pueblos; African slavery, emancipation, and mestizaje in the Oriente; nuns, power, and the control of convent assets; urban law enforcement; rivalries over intoxicating beverages and militia service in Quetzaltenango; heterodox religious practices; and racism and elite ideology. Includes contributions by Héctor Aurelio Concohá Chet, Paul Lokken, Christophe Belaubre, Alvis E. Dunn, Jorge H. González Alzate, Jordana Dym, Leonardo Hernández, Coralia Gutiérrez Alvarez, and Ivonne Recinos Aquino.
Jones, Oakah L. Guatemala in the Spanish Colonial Period. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.
Recommended for a quick introduction, despite weaknesses, especially significant omissions for the mid-colonial period. A more comprehensive work is needed.
Luján Muñoz, Jorge, gen. ed. Historia general de Guatemala. 6 vols. Guatemala City: Asociación de Amigos del País, Fundación para la Cultura y Desarrollo, 1993–1999.
Collaborative effort with contributions by internationally recognized specialists. Encyclopedic in scope. For colonial topics, turn to Volume 2, edited by Ernesto Chinchilla Aguilar, and Volume 3, edited by Cristina Zilbermann de Luján.
MacLeod, Murdo J. Spanish Central America: A Socioeconomic History, 1520–1720. 2d ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.
Essential. Originally published in 1973, the work describes the long-term impact of the encounter between Spaniards and native peoples, including the impact on indigenous population; landscape and environment; and patterns of labor, production, and exchange. Accepting the thesis of secular depression in 17th-century Spanish America, MacLeod provides a convincing account of colonial authorities’ efforts to manage effects of boom-and-bust export cycles.
Martínez Peláez, Severo. La Patria del Criollo: An Interpretation of Colonial Guatemala. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.
Essential. Originally issued in Spanish in 1970, the volume builds on Marxist analysis of Fuentes y Guzmán 1969–1972 (cited in Early Histories). Argues that that text reveals elements of dominant-class ideology justifying the wealth and privilege enjoyed by families such as Fuentes y Guzmán’s. According to the author, the fundamentals of Guatemalan society have not changed since colonial times, nor have attitudes and assumptions that underlie them.
Torres Rivas, Edelberto, gen. ed. Historia general de Centroamérica. 2d ed. 6 vols. San José, Costa Rica: FLACSO, 1994.
Collaborative effort motivated by 1992 observance of Columbian Quincentenary. Focuses on Central America as a whole, but Guatemala is well represented. Colonial-period topics are treated in Volume 2, edited by Julio César Pinto Soria, and Volume 3, edited by Héctor Pérez Brignoli.
Webre, Stephen, ed. La sociedad colonial en Guatemala: Estudios regionales y locales. Antigua Guatemala: Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica, 1989.
Collected studies intended to reflect major research trends at time. Essays deal with missionization, ethnic relations, land tenure, colonial elites, and urban society. In addition to Webre, contributors include Anne Cox Collins, Pilar Sanchiz Ochoa, W. George Lovell, Michel Bertrand, Julio César Pinto Soria, and Inge Langenberg.
Woodward, Ralph Lee, Jr. Central America: A Nation Divided. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
The standard work in English on Central America, first published in 1976.
Woodward, Ralph Lee, Jr. A Short History of Guatemala. Antigua Guatemala: Editorial Laura Lee, 2008.
Abbreviated version of Woodward 1999, with a focus exclusively on Guatemala material. Quick place to begin.
Wortman, Miles L. Government and Society in Central America, 1680–1840. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.
Account picks up essentially where MacLeod 2008 leaves off. Wortman offers a more optimistic assessment of 17th-century economic conditions than MacLeod, followed by a skeptical appraisal of Bourbon-era policies and outcomes. The transition to postcolonial order is also addressed.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Agricultural Technologies
- Ancient Andean Textiles
- Andean Contributions to Rethinking the State and the Natio...
- Andean Music
- Antislavery Narratives
- Arab Diaspora in Brazil, The
- 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
- Atlantic Creoles
- 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 Legal History of Peru
- Colonial New Granada
- 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
- Dutch in South America and the Caribbean, The
- 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
- Gaucho Literature
- Gender in Colonial Brazil
- Gender in Postcolonial Latin America
- Guaraní and Their Legacy, The
- Guatemala and Yucatan, Conquest of
- Guatemala City
- Guatemala (Colonial Period)
- 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
- José María Arguedas and Early 21st Century Cultural and Po...
- 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
- Magical Realism
- Maroon Societies in Latin America
- Martí, José, and Cuba
- Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas
- Mexican Nationalism
- 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
- Paz, Octavio
- 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
- Puerto Rican Literature
- 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 American Arab Literature
- Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750
- Spanish Caribbean In The Colonial Period, The
- Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825
- Spanish Florida
- Spiritual Conquest of Latin America, The
- 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
- Venezuelan Literature
- Women and Labor in 20th-Century Latin America
- Women in Colonial Latin American History
- Women in Modern Latin American History
- Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas