A common saying among historians is that without documents there can be no history. Although this is not absolutely true, given the growing use of pictorial records and material remains to reconstruct the past, written documents traditionally have been the basis for many accounts; and among these, legal documents often form an important part. For this reason, students of the colonial past should not neglect Jorge Guevara Gil’s study of land law in Cuzco. He analyzes and publishes (in a long appendix) the property titles to the Hacienda Santotis between 1543 and 1822. In doing so (in chapter 1), he not only outlines the history of one estate and, indirectly, of the agricultural ups and downs of a region; but also tells a story of one of the first conquerors and founders of Cuzco, the family he left behind, and the evolution of the landholding group of the region.

Guevara Gil’s monograph is not just another socioeconomic chronicle of an estate, however. The author’s real work and his main objective become evident in a long chapter 2, in which he analyzes the titles to provide an understanding of the legal mechanisms and framework used by the Spanish to acquire property from the crown, other Europeans, and the natives. Mechanisms for acquisition included the merced de tierras (grant of lands), purchases, and exchanges. Subsequent consolidation involved legalization of landholding for a fee paid to the crown (composición), confirmation, and inspector (visitador) resolutions. Chapter 3 discusses the means of defending the land, such as possession; following that is a chapter on tenure. The final chapter contains a more philosophical discourse on law as a social product and cultural phenomenon.

Consider this book a “must read” for anyone contemplating or engaged in research on agrarian history. Guevara Gil analyzes the hacienda documents by type; he defines and gives a legal history of each (referring back to Las Partidas, 1256-65). The author also provides an appreciation of how different types of legal manuscripts were used in colonial Cuzco. Besides giving the historical context of transactions, he dissects them, explaining standard legal phrases and underscoring their significance. In so doing, he traces the imposition of Spanish law regarding property on indigenous peoples, who were accorded the status of miserables and children while being promised some semblance of state protection. Because that promise was not completely kept, he shows, natives learned early to use the legal structure to defend themselves; this confirms the findings of other scholars.

Guevara Gil’s strict focus on the juridical history of this one estate is the major contribution or strength of the book. Also useful are his thoughtful critiques, which subtly refine and correct the concepts and conclusions of Karen Spalding, Richard Konetzke, and Rolando Mellafe (pp. 105, 149). But his narrow focus also leads to weaknesses. Perhaps because he does not command the abundant literature on haciendas in general, he repeats the mistake of James Lockhart, who gave the encomienda territorial dimensions (“Encomienda and Hacienda: The Evolution of the Great Estate in the Spanish Indies,” HAHR 49:3, August 1969; subsequently critiqued by Robert G. Keith, “Encomienda, Hacienda and Corregimiento in Spanish America: A Structural Analysis,” HAHR 51:3, August 1971).

Another problem is that the work is predominantly a European and colonial story. It offers no native perspective. It includes no discussion of the indigenous concepts of land and tenure, and no mention of such phenomena as “resource sharing” among the native peoples, which might explain instances of original use and eventual transfer of native resources to Europeans.

Nevertheless, in addition to its value for specialists, this book could be a useful tool in graduate seminars to prepare students for work in the archives. The assignment of such a work would give students a feel for the type of information contained in different types of documents, the author’s use of data, and its alternative uses. After all, titles provide information on the economy, the relations between Europeans and Indians, and the position and affinities of native leaders (kurakas). Inventories of estates, when included, contain data on hacienda layout and construction, technology, and minutia on the religious objects of a church or chapel. Such a lesson might conclude with a reminder that estate titles could be rounded off with other types of documents, such as accounts, for details on management and daily or seasonal activities.