The Colonial Spanish-American City: Urban Life in the Age of Atlantic Capitalism

The Colonial Spanish-American City: Urban Life in the Age of Atlantic Capitalism

The Colonial Spanish-American City: Urban Life in the Age of Atlantic Capitalism

The Colonial Spanish-American City: Urban Life in the Age of Atlantic Capitalism

Synopsis

The colonial Spanish-American city, like its counterpart across the Atlantic, was an outgrowth of commercial enterprise. A center of entrepreneurial activity and wealth, it drew people seeking a better life, with more educational, occupational, commercial, bureaucratic, and marital possibilities than were available in the rural regions of the Spanish colonies. Indeed, the Spanish-American city represented hope and opportunity, although not for everyone. In this authoritative work, Jay Kinsbruner draws on many sources to offer the first history and interpretation in English of the colonial Spanish-American city. After an overview of pre-Columbian cities, he devotes chapters to many important aspects of the colonial city, including its governance and administrative structure, physical form, economy, and social and family life. Kinsbruner' overarching thesis is that the Spanish-American city evolved as a circumstance of trans-Atlantic capitalism. Underpinning this thesis is his view that there were no plebeians in the colonial city. He calls for a class interpretation, with an emphasis on the lower-middle class. His study also explores the active roles of women, many of them heads of households, in the colonial Spanish-American city.

Excerpt

This book is both a history and an interpretation of the colonial SpanishAmerican city. So far as I can tell, it is the first book of its kind in English, and there are precious few in Spanish. This is probably because the problems attached to writing such a book are many. A definitive rendering would require volumes, and a relatively short synthesis based upon secondary sources raises myriad decisions about style, vocabulary, and what to exclude at every turn. Like V. S. Naipaul, I too wish my prose to be transparent, so the reader will see what I have to say. Many times during the writing of this book I imagined what other scholars, often friends, would think when they noticed that my emphasis was not the one they might have assigned.

This book has a central theme, which is that the colonial SpanishAmerican city evolved during the age of Atlantic capitalism and was itself a circumstance of that capitalism. This means many things and implies challenges to those who believe that the colonial economy was not essentially capitalist but one in which very few people owned the means of production and distribution (to borrow a phrase) in such form that only a small percentage of the urban population possessed tangible and discretionary wealth, and the rest of the people were the immiserated plebeians (to borrow someone else’s phrase). This dichotomous construct does not allow for much of a middle class, or, perhaps more importantly, a lower-middle class, or for the breadth and depth of generalized economic endeavor that could efficaciously underwrite a colonial society’s entry into the world capitalist marketplace as an independent nation. I have tried to suggest the range and content of my discussion in the book’s title. Colonial and national economies matured according to different rhythms and did so differently. In any event, life in all capitalist societies, regardless of degree of maturity, was hard and gener-

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