Three generations of scholarship intervene between the first Spain in America of Edward Gaylord Bourne and the second of Charles Gibson. What have we scholars done in that interval? The question is especially easy to answer, because each of the two volumes represents a thoughtful, understanding assessment of the ideas and knowledge of its day. Gibson, especially, has chosen to cast his volume as a summary of what is thought and known. His book covers approximately half the range of that by Bourne, since it excludes voyages of discovery and exploration. One must compare his volume with the second half of Bourne, treating Spanish colonial administration and the nature of Spanish cultural penetration—in short, the first centuries of Spanish America. The comparison is reassuring, especially to a highly skeptical reader who has looked with distress at the widely uneven quality of the voluminous modern scholarship on Latin America. Many topics which could be covered but scantily in Bourne’s day are handled in considerably greater depth and with far more knowledge by Gibson.
The difference is particularly noticeable in the treatment of the Church and of missionary work, the Borderlands as an unusual zone of cultural formation and adaptation, the encomienda and other forms by which the Spanish harnessed the Indian community to its support and service, the internal economic and demographic changes of the colonies. Gibson shows an entirely new dimension in his discussion of the ethical and intellectual preoccupations of the Spanish and the relation of such preoccupations to those of our day. Clearly three generations of study, however sporadic and anarchic, have not merely enlarged our knowledge but have also changed many foci of discussion. If our scholarship has not the glory of rapid and massive advance, it has benefited from a steady, though almost random accretion which over three generations amounts to massive change. Charles Gibson’s Spain in America is a welcome addition to the libraries of America.