This book promises the reader a new understanding of how boundaries between Spain and Portugal came into being, whether in Europe or in the Americas. Tamar Herzog stresses the common cultural heritage of Portuguese and Spanish actors who articulated legal doctrine, evoked local history, and obeyed the law while seeking the interpretations that best served their needs. The basic premise is that borders resulted from “activities by a plethora of agents” who “defined the territories of their communities and states” (p. 1) — in other words, that borders were not established by diplomacy or war.

Part 1 focuses on the vast interior of South America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries where influential Spanish and Portuguese agents, such as missionaries, military leaders, governors, scientists, and colonists, defended their claims and rights to land. Adopting the metaphor of an archipelago of “islands” in...

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