Alfredo Figueroa Navarro, Panama’s most noted social historian, has produced in this short study an important contribution to the historiography of nineteenth-century Panama. Through the analysis of some two thousand wills dated between 1787 and 1903, he demonstrates at once how useful and how limited this form of documentation is for the study of history. For this work, Figueroa Navarro combed the several parochial archives in Panama, including those outside Panama City (the usual focus of such studies). Because of this broad approach, the book offers insight into rural areas largely unstudied in previous publications.

The author’s goal was to identify the characteristics of individuals who left wills—where they lived, how much and what they owned, and so on—and then to extrapolate generalizations about nineteenth-century Panama based on the accumulated evidence. This was difficult, however, since most Panamanians died intestate, as the author admits (p. 69). Figueroa Navarro properly assumes, however, that the wills available are representative of much of Panamanian society, especially since wills from every economic class were found. But as one might expect, wills from the wealthier classes are more common than wills from the lower classes.

Almost two-thirds of this book is devoted to charts and graphs of data from the documents studied. Making this information easily available to scholars is the study’s real contribution—more than the author’s limited analysis. Indeed, the collection of information from small, rural parochial archives is of major benefit to scholars of Panama, many of whom can better utilize their research time in the larger documentary holdings of Panama City, Bogotá, and Seville. In this presentation of raw data, Testamento y sociedad follows in the footsteps of Figueroa Navarro’s previous studies of Panamanian social history.