Within the compass of a relatively short study (158 pages of text), Rodney Anderson has given us a sensitive, skillful, and provocative treatment of a major provincial city in Mexico on the cusp of the colonial and national periods. The book makes a major contribution to the burgeoning literature on the social and
demographic structure of Latin American cities in the early modern era. Basing his work in the main on an extensive and nearly complete manuscript census of Guadalajara carried out in 1821-22, supplemented with some other documentation from city records and an extensive range of secondary literature, Anderson has used statistical sampling and computer techniques to extract an amazing amount of interesting information bearing on the city’s demographic characteristics, its economic life, and its social geography.
Some of Anderson’s conclusions contradict the conventional wisdom about traditional Latin American cities. For one thing, he finds that there was a much greater degree of short-term physical mobility within the city—people and families moving from house to house—than one would have thought. For another, he concludes that even in apparently wealthy sections of Guadalajara the rich lived cheek-by-jowl with the poor. Less surprising is his conclusion that a large part of the city’s population was composed of recent migrants from small towns, villages, and the countryside. Aside from these and other interesting substantive findings, one of the book’s virtues is that it places Guadalajara in the comparative context of studies about traditional urban life in Europe, the United States, other areas in Mexico and Latin America, and even Canada. Furthermore, Anderson pays a good deal of attention to theoretical issues as raised in the work of Gideon Sjoberg and Peter Laslett, among other scholars. In fact, a polite disputation with Laslett provides part of the structure of the book’s argument. Anderson attempts to prove that Laslett’s revisionist contention—that the dominant mode in Western European household patterns for the last several centuries has been the nuclear, and not the extended or multigenerational, family—cannot be applied to Guadalajara, where the average size of the domestic unit (a term used by Anderson in preference to household or family) was rather larger than Laslett’s model would predict. Ultimately Anderson is not entirely successful in this effort, not so much because Laslett is right, as because his own evidence and argument are equivocal.
Despite its many virtues, the book has some faults. At a few points the argument loses clarity or contradicts itself, or the author makes claims that seem hard to justify. For example, he tells us (p. 136) that creole social mobility depended on spatial mobility, which seems improbable enough, but contradicts himself shortly thereafter (p. 138). Also, the generally well-written text is marred at points by a surprising opacity, and some of the numerous statistical tables are difficult to read. On the whole, however, this is an interesting and rewarding study that should appeal to a wide audience, including historical demographers, colonialists, and urban historians in general.