Essays in the Intellectual History of Colonial Latin America

Essays in the Intellectual History of Colonial Latin America

Essays in the Intellectual History of Colonial Latin America

Essays in the Intellectual History of Colonial Latin America

Synopsis

Approaches to Bartolome de las Casas is a collection of ten essays that have been adapted from Benjamin Keen's writings about las Casas & related topics in the intellectual history of colonial Latin America. It is an accessible introduction to colonial history & a critical guide to the literature in the field. In these essays, which have been updated & revised, Keen explores the literature & thought regarding Spain's influence on the New World. Some of his articles are themselves of historiographic significance because of their role in shaping current perceptions of colonial history, while others are distinguished for their bibliographic charting of recent debates on selected issues.

Excerpt

The eleven essays that compose this book were written and published over a span of several decades; some appeared in journals or collections that may be difficult to access. Their common theme, broadly speaking, is the intellectual history of colonial Latin America. Some explore the relationship between ideology and its political and socioeconomic matrix as reflected in the images that Europeans and others formed of the Indian or notable figures like Bartolomé de Las Casas or Columbus.

Two of the essays deal with Las Casas, that great contemporary and in some ways intellectual brother of Thomas More and Desiderius Erasmus. I have long been fascinated by the novelty and daring of Las Casas's thought, which fused classical, medieval, and Renaissance thought into a revolutionary ideology that proclaimed the unity of humankind, the right of selfdetermination, and what today's liberation theology calls "the preferential option for the poor." A recent event suggests the large continuing relevance of his thought. When a massive Indian uprising, led by a self-styled Zapatista "army of liberation," broke out in 1994 in the Mexican state of Chiapas, the Mexican government eventually called on Samuel Ruiz, bishop of the highland town of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the only public figure to enjoy the trust of the Mayan peasantry, to act as mediator. Ruiz, it should be noted, was an exponent of "liberation theology" and the pro-Indian teachings of Bartolomé de Las Casas, the first bishop of Chiapas.

Las Casas also figures prominently in my articles on the "Black" and "White" legends. For a better understanding of the significance of these articles I should say something about their background. At the time they were written a revisionist point of view that sought to embellish Spain's colonial record and in the process often denigrated Indian achievements had reached a high point of influence in the writing and teaching of Latin American colonial history in the United States. My essay on "Main Currents in United States Writings on Colonial Spanish America, 1884-1984" traces the development of this revisionist tendency and the eventual reaction against it. That exaggerated revisionism was reflected in textbooks like Hubert Herring's very popular History of Latin America (1967 ed.), which denounced the "leyenda negra of Spanish perfidy with which American and English school- boys have been regaled" and proclaimed: "Spain did not destroy great In-

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