Distance and Documents at the Spanish Empire's Periphery

Distance and Documents at the Spanish Empire's Periphery

Distance and Documents at the Spanish Empire's Periphery

Distance and Documents at the Spanish Empire's Periphery

Excerpt

We have become increasingly accustomed, over the last half-century, to the idea that the globe is shrinking. If travel is fast, communication is faster. The instantaneous delivery of messages that would previously have taken days or weeks has done curious things to our sense of distance, so that space and time, those two reliable measures of remoteness, seem at times entirely eroded. What does distance mean when such previously formidable obstacles can be so easily overlooked? Surely distance has not disappeared entirely. Despite the illusion of universal proximity, there are yet ways of being remote and distant in our day. Distance, it seems, is not so much about a spatial measure as it is about the endurance of those obstacles: space and time. In some cases they endure where they have been carefully cultivated as barriers from a world perceived as fast-paced; in other cases they endure where resources are scarce and the means cannot be found to overcome them. So, even now, not every place is equally connected and distance is, undeniably, relative and flexible. In this sense, there is little difference between our conception of distance and that of people in the colonial Atlantic world. Distance was then, as it is now, less a question of measurement and more a question of perspective.

Pertinent as it is to both modern and colonial life, I did not begin the research for this book with the intention of studying the conception of distance. It seems now that nothing could be more central to the workings of the Spanish empire, stretching so far across four continents that, as the saying goes, the sun across it never set. But, in fact, I began at the margins of the topic, both spatially and thematically, and I only fully perceived distance as a central research problem after some time.

The discovery of the problem began with a series of perplexing questions that arose while reading a document, an Inquisition case from the early . . .

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