This lengthy monograph examines a far narrower component of the transportation system of New Spain than its ambitious title suggests. Specifically, the book provides a detailed case study of the movement of raw materials and finished products of the estanco real del tabaco (the royal tobacco monopoly) by mule train at the end of the eighteenth century in New Spain. The author’s goal is to demonstrate that at the end of the colonial period, New Spain comprised a set of regions that were highly articulated through a dependable and well-established system of land transportation. The research is underpinned by a review of the literature on the economy and transportation system of New Spain, consultation of secondary sources, and use of primary source materials from Mexico’s Archivo General de la Nación. The key document upon which the study is based is a register of mule trains, the “asiento de arrieros,” from the Archivo Histórico de Hacienda. This document provides a day-by-day account of the movement of mule trains from the warehouses of the estanco real in Mexico City for one year, 1800. The name and origin of the owners/drivers, cargo, destination, and cost of transport for some 272 trips during that year are cataloged.
In the five chapters that make up the body of this book, the author methodically examines the principal components of the mule-driving business and lifestyle. The organization and operation of mule teams are detailed in the first chapter that includes information on the personnel, acquisition, and provisioning of the mules, and the packaging, transport, and storage of cargo. In the second chapter the business’s legal framework is explained; the author notes the evolution of contractual and security arrangements as well as the terms and conditions for transporting freight. Trading circuits, the geography of the transportation network, and the regional origins of muleteers provide the focus for the third chapter. Freight rates, the factors contributing to their variation, and regional comparisons are detailed in the fourth chapter. The last chapter of the book casts a broad net, seeking to present the prominent characteristics of the social world of the muleteer, as well as exploring their business, social, and familial relationships and networks.
This book has a number of shortcomings. The primary data, upon which the core of the study is based, are limited to just one year, 1800. In addition, as the author clearly notes, the data are geographically incomplete, with parts of the country falling under the authority of other offices of the estanco real. More troublesome is the basic premise of the book—that it is possible to demonstrate that New Spain was composed of highly articulated regions connected by an efficient transportation system on the basis of a single narrowly focused case study like this one. The manuscript could have benefited from a good editor as well, and its readability is hindered by all too frequent “signposting” and repetitive summaries sprinkled throughout.
Effective copyediting could have resolved a number of other problems that hinder the book’s utility. Numerous maps, tables, and figures supplement the text, but no lists of any of these are provided. In addition, textual references to them are usually limited to statements like “see the appropriate table”—with no suggestion as to what the number of the appropriate table might be. These omissions are aggravated because most of the tables and graphics are not placed where they are first mentioned in the text, but are grouped into sections, often far from the corresponding textual reference. Appendixes occupy the last hundred pages or so of the book, and while many tables are included here, again there is no list of tables to guide the reader. The last 36 pages of the manuscript, which contain appendix 2, are unpaginated. The book’s utility is further limited by the absence of an index.
This book fills a niche for a narrow audience of specialists concerned with the detailed workings of the colonial economy of New Spain at the end of the colonial period. Few others are likely to utilize this work. This study, which does have scholarly merit, would have been more appropriately and effectively presented as an article in a scholarly journal where it could have reached a broader audience.