Peter Bakewell. A History of Latin America: Empires and Sequels 1450-1930. Oxford and Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1997. xxiv + 520 pp. $43.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-631-20547-0; $86.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-631-16791-4.
Reviewed by Marshall C. Eakin (Vanderbilt University) Published on H-LatAm (August, 1998)
Latin America’s Past, But Not its Present
is is a wonderful but strange entry in the select
list of general histories of Latin America in English. In recent years, only a small group of historians have at- tempted a single-volume survey of five centuries of Latin American history: Benjamin Keen’s A History of Latin America first appeared in 1980, and is now in its fih edition. Brad Burns’ A Concise Interpretive History of Latin America (1972, sixth edition, 1994) was for many years the principal alternative to Keen, and offers a much more idiosyncratic and synthetic vision. In 1992, Ed- win Williamson entered the field with e Penguin His- tory of Latin America, with a very traditional text that stresses institutions, politics, and culture. e prin- cipal alternative to these ambitious single-volume texts has been Oxford University Press’s trilogy covering the colonial period, the nineteenth century, and the twenti- eth century.
A History of Latin America is the first volume pub- lished in Blackwell’s History of the World series, pro- jected to be sixteen volumes. Peter Bakewell certainly was a fine choice to author the volume on Latin Amer- ica. Educated at Cambridge in the late sixties, Bakewell came to the U.S. in 1975 where he taught at the Univer- sity of New Mexico until 1989, when he moved to Emory University. One of the finest historians of colonial Latin America, he has wrien outstanding books on silver min- ing in colonial Mexico and Peru. Few historians today can match his knowledge of the two core regions of Span- ish America.
Bakewell divides his survey into six parts containing seventeen chapters. Although averaging out to about a page per year of coverage, this text is very heavily weighted toward coverage of the colonial period, and, more specifically, the sixteenth century. As Bakewell says in the preface, “in the history of Latin America, the sixteenth century is not only the most interesting but the most important period” (p. xv). (I fully agree with Bakewell here.) Accordingly, nearly a third of the volume
deals with this crucial century. Part I, “Bases,” introduces “Lands and Climates,” “American Peoples,” and “Iberia” in three excellent chapters and a lile more than fiy pages. Nearly two-thirds of the chapter on native peoples is de- voted to the Aztecs and Incas. Surprisingly, the Maya barely get a passing mention. e Iberian background chapter provides a nice introduction to early voyages into the Atlantic and the construction of late fieenth-century Spain.
Part II, “Approaches,” also has three chapters, one on “Columbus and Others,” one on “Experiments in the Caribbean,” and another on “Military Conquest.” In less than fiy pages, Bakewell provides an excellent synthesis of discovery, conquest and early colonization. Again, this is a wonderful overview. In particular, Bakewell’s discus- sion of the role of the Caribbean as the testing ground for Spain’s empire in the Americas and his careful analysis of the Spanish military conquest are masterful analyses. He very effectively conveys the contingencies and fac- tors that contributed to the victory of small numbers of Spaniards over enormous Indian populations.
best syntheses of sixteenth-century Spanish America I have ever read. In four chapters and a hundred pages, Bakewell examines the administration of Spanish Amer-
ica, the church, society, and the chronology, politics, institutions,
economy. He blends social, and economic
history offering a wide-ranging and nuanced vision. moves easily from the particular to the general.
Aer one hundred pages on the sixteenth century, Part IV, “Mature Colonies,” moves on to Spanish America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in roughly the same amount of space. Chapter Eleven, “e Seven- teenth Century: A Slacker Grip,” again, is an outstand- ing synthesis, especially of the issues and aspects of the old debate over the so-called “seventeenth-century cri- sis” in both Europe and America. (He argues that there