Latin American historians should welcome this recent addition to the Borzoi series. Harold B. Johnson has done an excellent job in dealing with what is probably the most difficult topic thus far assigned to a volume editor. Selecting items for inclusion in an anthology is never the easiest of tasks, but is even more difficult in the present case because it also involves some difficult decisions about the parts of the Iberian past relevant to the study of Latin American history. Johnson’s ten selections are grouped under three broad headings, and his thirty-five page introductory essay fits each of them into a general consideration of the ingredients which led to creation of the two empires and shaped their historical development.
The first group, “From Medieval to Modern Colonization,” deals with the two traditions which shaped Iberian overseas expansion, that of medieval Mediterranean mercantile capitalism and the peninsular one of territorial conquest and lordship arising out of the Reconquista. It was the merging of these two traditions, with the Mediterranean one dominant initially, which established the “maritime bridge,” to use Johnson’s phrase, allowing for the transfer of Iberian institutions and values to this side of the Atlantic. Once the bridge was established, however, the Catholic Monarchs abandoned the Mediterranean or “trading-station” approach to empire and began to organize their Caribbean holdings along the lines of the traditional Iberian pattern of conquest and lordship. The Portuguese clung to the Mediterranean tradition until the threat of losing their American stations forced them to revert to the Iberian tradition of settlement. Johnson’s discussion of the genesis of the two approaches to empire and the reasons for their merger, together with the views of Claudio Sánchez Albornoz and Charles Verlinden on the two traditions, provides a valuable contribution to the “European background” of Latin American history.
The second section, “Elements of Conquest and Settlement,” focuses on the institutional contributions of the Iberian kingdoms. It contains six selections, dealing with peninsular ranching, Madeira sugar plantations, slavery in Seville, the encomienda in Castile, as well as with the urban tradition and the contribution of the mendicant orders to the formation of Latin America.
“The Ethos of Medieval Iberia,” the third section, deals with the attitudes and values the Iberians carried across the Atlantic. Sketches of “national character” seldom are fully satisfying, but the selections used here, one by Américo Castro and the other by Jaime Cortesão, give us the views of two articulate and highly respected scholars.
This work is forcing me to re-examine my long-standing belief that anthologies such as the Borzoi series are of little use in an introductory survey of Latin American history.