The five volumes under review collectively contribute to our understanding of the nature of Spanish administrative organization and control of native peoples at the core of high civilization zones in Andean and Mesoamerica. With Peter Gerhard we have a revised and corrected work that was increasingly difficult to locate with the passage of time. Here is a seasoned scholar who over the years has continued to keep his attention closely focused on the historical geography of Mexico. The volume on central New Spain was originally published by Cambridge University Press in 1972; dir two volumes on the southeast and northern frontiers were published by Princeton University Press in 1979 and 1982, respectively. The discovery of some new, important source materials, as well as the findings of more recent researchers, also made a new edition of Gerhard’s work desirable. Today the text is as valuable as it was originally—perhaps even more so.
Gerhard’s organization and subjects are similar in each volume. He examines first the physical setting, then the nature of the conquest, the encomienda system, administrative history, ecclesiastical divisions; then population and settlements, followed by a place-by-place description. This is not a text to be read for the pleasure of a good narrative, competently written though it is. Instead, it is a resource to be used, item by item, to initiate study of Mesoamerica’s past at the local level. The dozens of detailed maps, with their topographical information, clearly delineated boundaries, and place locations, are simply wonderful. These alone are enough reason to own the volumes. But there is more: detailed information on community histories, with thousands of leads into the published and archival sources, from the very beginning to the end of Spain’s control of what became the Republic of Mexico.
While Gerhard’s volumes include a wealth of information on individual encomenderos and the cabeceras, or communities as tributary units, the author’s primary aim is to provide the data to reconstitute the feeling of place and the relation of people to the physical setting; the material of historical geography. The concerns of Javier Ortiz de la Tabla Ducasse and José de la Puente Brunke are more for people—the Andean encomenderos and their native charges. Ortiz’ interest in the Audiencia of Quito began more than two decades ago. Although he initially focused on commercial issues in the coastal sector during the eighteenth century, he grew curious about earlier elites, particularly the question of elite persistence in the central highlands of Ecuador. Did the wealthy of the highlands descend from early colonial encomenderos, or were they a new breed? Ortiz surveyed more than six hundred legajos from the Audiencia of Quito in the Archive of the Indies, some two hundred from Lima, and a like number from Santa Fé de Bogotá, plus select materials from AGI sections as diverse as Patronato, Contaduría, Justicia, Indiferente General, and Escribanía de Cámara. He also used materials in the Archivo General de la Nación in Quito.
Unfortunately, the materials a researcher might expect to find in the archives—the grants of encomienda, the tribute assessments and reassessments, and the service reports—were not always to be found where one would expect them. Nevertheless, Ortiz managed to compile and analyze substantial data on the Ecuadorean encomendero class. Control of labor, as well as access to land and mines, was critical to success for some. By the end of the sixteenth century and into the seventeenth, control of obrajes, or cloth factories, was even more important. Quito’s encomendero elite, for the most part, managed to transfer power to subsequent generations of settlers; the book’s genealogical tables illustrate the links between the early colonial conquistadores and settlers and the eighteenth-century estate owners. Had Ortiz provided approximate dates of births, marriages, and deaths of the individuals mentioned, the family trees would have been even more useful to researchers.
De la Puente’s text is based on a doctoral dissertation presented at the Universidad de Sevilla in 1990, the revised version of which, in 1991, received first prize in the Quinto Centenario del Descubrimiento de América competition sponsored by the Diputación de Sevilla. At present, this work is the best single volume that systematically evaluates the Peruvian encomienda. Although Gerhard does not appear in the bibliography, one might say the approach is almost Gerhardian. De la Puente integrates well the works of non-Peruvian and non-Spanish scholars, particularly Silvio Zavala and a number of North American historians. He shifts the focus from the older generation’s emphasis on legal and administrative foundations (exemplified by Manuel Belaunde Guinassi) to social history. Instead of examining an individual encomendero (as Efraín Trelles Arestegui did with Lucas Martínez Vegaso) or a valley system (as did Manuel Burga de Jequepeteque), de la Puente surveys the whole of the Peruvian institution.
Successive chapters examine the encomienda’s origin and institutional development, the evolution of crown policy, progressive encomienda size and value, the shift from goods to personal service to money for tribute payment, and finally the social and economic history of the encomendero elite from their rise to their decline. Two hundred pages of appendixes list individual encomiendas by district with the names of holders, dates of tribute assessments, number of tributaries, tribute value, and source of the data. This is important material. It goes chronologically beyond (to the eighteenth century) that provided by María Rostworowski, Teodoro Hampe-Martínez, this reviewer, and others in a series of works. It is selective, however, so other sources must be consulted to extract, say, the number of children, elderly and infirm, and women, or the exact quantities of various types of tributes required from each encomienda.
De la Puente does provide useful maps for each of the seven major colonial districts that constituted what is today republican Peru (with the exception of the south coast that extends into Tarapaca, Pica, and Loa). The maps include river valleys and provincial (corregimiento-level) units. But they show no topographical features, as Gerhard’s do, nor do they trace rough encomienda or, at the lower level, Indian town boundaries.
A number of years ago, David J. Robinson commented to me that what we need for the Andean region is the type of close mapping and detailed local data Peter Gerhard provides for Mexico. More recently, John F. Schwaller concurred with that suggestion. Although the works of both Ortiz and de la Puente contribute significantly to our knowledge of local society and the encomendero elite, the opportunity for a historical geography of Andean America similar to that elaborated for Mexico several years ago remains a challenge to be met.