Claude Morin’s Michoacán is a major addition to colonial historiography. Based on extensive archival research in Mexico and Europe, it aims for what used to be the Annales School’s goal of serial history—long series of equivalent figures for population, production, taxes, and trade that can reveal changes in material conditions for large groups of people over the long term, changes that are hidden beneath dynastic chronologies and most great events. The author knows the shortcomings of his figures and he has provided a valuable parallel text on administrative changes in the eighteenth century and how they affected tax, price, and production records. Unfortunately, the figures have not been adjusted for inflation. Still, the result of this close, critical, detailed study is a clearer picture of the rhythms of material history in the century before national independence than previously available.

Nearly every page offers new information, a shrewd observation on flawed sources, or a promising connection or insight into how goods were bought and sold and a host of related topics; but two findings hold particular interest: (1) tax revenues grew much faster in the eighteenth century than did mining, agriculture, manufacturing, and the population in Michoacán. The result was a “hemorrhaging of money” to Europe and China, chronic shortage of liquid capital, and a great reliance on credit at nearly every level of exchange. How this contributed to “freezing” social relationships and “retrograde changes” (p. 140) remains to be seen, but enrichment of the crown can no longer be taken as a measure of general prosperity in the eighteenth century. (2) Within nine- to seventeen-year and thirty-year cycles of production, exchange, and prices, the years from 1750 to 1766 emerge as mysteriously important: coinciding roughly with the one important “depression” of silver production in the eighteenth century and generally lower prices for foodstuffs, this seems to have been a time of transition to fewer and less pronounced cycles in the growth of production in agriculture and mining, and the expansion of haciendas.

The last third of the book deals with agrarian society in economic terms and divides rural production into two “systems,” the hacienda and the village. Morin posits that increasing specialization of production for regional and export markets and the rise in agricultural production generally were due less to advances in productivity through capital investment than through greater exploitation of a larger labor force. As in David Brading’s recent work on the Bajío, there was much sharecropping on Michoacán haciendas, and the small rancho was an important unit of landholding and production. The village “system” is treated briefly, in isolation, and from less satisfactory evidence. The author attends mainly to how much communal land and labor there may have been in pueblos. Here he posits a direct relationship between the amount of communal land and the strength of community bonds (p. 293) and a “disintegration” of pueblos “under certain conditions” (p. 292), neither of which is backed up with much explanation or evidence.

For all its strengths, this book has an arbitrary starting point. The “region” of Michoacán is, for most purposes, the Bishopric of Michoacán. Why this is appropriate—why an administrative territory organized under the church might be the basis of regional social and economic history—beyond the fact that the church records are the source of most of the information used, is not made clear. Valladolid is said to be an “ecclesiastical city par excellence” but the city and its network receive practically no attention. Too little is done with the church and other “determined but relatively autonomous” institutions of the “superstructure” (p. 11) to allow for an appraisal of the relationships between administrative and economic history. If the bishopric was a region in the sense that it was organized around markets and a hierarchy of market places in the way William Skinner described them for China, this is not apparent from the book either. Nor are ecological zones considered seriously enough to justify the bishopric as a geographical unit for material history. Studying such a large area, region or not, over time in so much rich detail was well worth doing.