Spaniards and Indians in Southeastern Mesoamerica: Essays on the History of Ethnic Relations

By Murdo J. MacLeod; Robert Wasserstrom | Go to book overview

Some Aspects of Change in Guatemalan Society, 1470-1620

William L. Sherman

The state of historical writing on early Guatemala would be dismal indeed if it were not for the fact that, comparatively speaking, quite a respectable amount of research has been published in recent years. The output in just the last decade alone has significantly advanced our knowledge of the subject. Most of the studies have been substantial works, and the quality has rather consistently been high. Although some very good work has come out of Central America, Mexico, and Spain and other European countries, much of the best scholarly production has come from investigators in the United States.1

There is an ephemeral quality to any broad history, no matter how carefully formulated. Hardly is the ink dry before two or three doctoral dissertations are conceived, fastening on one generalization or another, demonstrating that this thesis or that is invalid for whatever locale the writer has chosen to examine. If his research merely confirms the findings of the general study he had hoped to challenge, the young historian's work will go unnoticed, but if he states persuasively that he has found an exception to the general rule, then he will be cited often, and his career will prosper. Thus are regional studies born, and many of them have produced useful, and sometimes even surprising, results. The effect has been in certain cases to diminish somewhat the reputation of those who have given us pioneering studies of a broad nature. Still, efforts of scholars like Robert Ricard and François Chevalier, because of the great contributions of their seminal works, retain the high esteem in which they are generally held. But even general works that promise less than Ricard and Chevalier should be encouraged, and the authors should not fear the consequences. Especially for a small region like Guatemala, there is a need to pull together the findings to date, patchy as they are, in order to bring some coherence to the country's history, to develop a framework

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