Some years ago Luis Navarro García undertook through his graduate students at the University of Seville the task of exploring the socioeconomic foundations of colonial New Granada. This ambitious project has led to the publication of a series of theses, beginning in 1975, under the auspices of the Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos, which includes regional studies on Popayán and Santa Marta and general works on the encomienda and mita in the seventeenth century and on the encomienda in the eighteenth. The present contribution by María Angeles Eugenio Martínez, despite its broad title, treats only the sixteenth century and focuses almost exclusively upon the provinces of Santa Fe and Tunja.

The central objective of Eugenio Martínez was to examine the effect of the New Laws in New Granada. Conducting research in both the Archivo General de Indias in Seville and the Archivo Nacional in Bogotá, she found that these laws and ancillary legislation on the treatment of Indians were not applied fully until the final decade of the sixteenth century. Faced by the opposition of the encomenderos, by an overall labor shortage, and even by an initial lack of beasts of burden, the audiencia had little real prospect of enforcing effectively the royal will. Indian slavery was rare, but the encomenderos did liberally avail themselves of Indian labor to carry loads, to work mines, and to provide agricultural and household services. Moreover, early attempts to standardize and codify tribute obligations also proved futile. In the long run, nevertheless, the decline of the Indian population, the rise of rival interest groups, and ongoing government pressure worked to undercut the encomenderos. By the end of the sixteenth century the royal authorities had assumed full control of the administration of Indian labor drafts, while royal law regulated the tribute income that the encomenderos continued to enjoy.

This book makes a commendable contribution to the historiography on colonial New Granada. While most U.S. scholars would probably prefer greater textual synthesis than this volume achieves, useful summaries do conclude each chapter. There are also extensive appendixes containing lists of encomiendas, the names of encomenderos, and tribute data.