James Lockhart’s study of Peruvian society, 1532-1560, is a distinguished first book. Going beyond the drama and horrors of the Conquest and the ensuing civil wars, he has set out to analyze what he calls the “precocious society” of Peru during its turbulent formative period.
Lockhart has used the rawest sort of data as the basis for his work—notarial records for sales, wills, work contracts, marriages, dowry agreements, powers of attorney, and the like. Drawing from the miniscule details in these documents, he has reconstructed broad societal patterns and has described the roles of encomenderos and majordomos, noblemen, professionals, merchants, artisans, sailors and foreigners, transients, Spanish women, Negroes, and Indians, all Hispanicized city dwellers.
Although Lockhart’s conclusions do not contradict earlier interpretations, they are significant in giving a whole new dimension to our understanding of early Peru. He argues that Spanish society was transplanted in Peru virtually intact with the encomenderos, and majordomos (500 in 1555) as the most important single group, the center of the Spanish Peruvian world. Negroes were vital as loyal auxiliaries of their white masters. Spanish women migrating to Peru made it possible to produce a second generation to inherit and carry on the economic and social privileges accorded the first. Artisans were also fundamental. Tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, stonemasons, barber-surgeons, pharmacists, confectioners, muleteers, bookbinders, silversmiths, and musicians sustained and perpetuated the society during and after the Conquest.
The author believes, however, that other occupational and ethnic groups were not as significant. The professionals—clergy, lawyers, doctors, and notaries (one thousand strong in 1555)—made less of a contribution, perhaps because of their attachment to legalism and formalism. Some 150 noblemen played little role in Peru to 1560, while an estimated 350 merchant-profiteers failed to establish deep roots in the community. Foreigners, especially Portuguese, were more numerous than generally supposed, but made their mark only in a limited number of occupations. Of the estimated 10,000 Spaniards in Peru in 1555 between 2,000 and 4,000 were parasitic transients, reminiscent of the pícaros of Spain and a bane to society. Hispanicized Indians initially came from Nicaragua and other parts of the Indies, but by 1560 they gave way to acculturated Peruvian Indians living in or near the principal cities.
In sum, this book is a major contribution. The author’s occasional stylistic pretensions and preachments on methodology, the sometimes monotonous case-study method (for which, however, there seems no alternative), and the overabundance of typographical errors can be irritating, but these are minor defects greatly overshadowed by the merits of the book. Lockhart has ingeniously pulled together a large mass of data to develop a totally new picture of Peruvian society in its formative stages. He has also given new insights into the nature of Spanish colonization in the New World and provided a model study for future research in other areas of the Spanish empire in America.