Conquest of Borderlands in Latin America

J. Michael Francis

in Latin American Studies

ISBN: 9780199766581
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
Conquest of Borderlands in Latin America

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  • Regional and Area Studies
  • History of the Americas


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The Spanish Borderlands occupy a vibrant, though relatively recent, field of historical inquiry. In 1921, Herbert E. Bolton issued the call to incorporate the Spanish Borderlands into the general history of the United States. A disciple of Frederick Jackson Turner, Bolton spent most of his academic career researching and writing about the Spanish Borderlands, which he defined as “the regions between Florida and California, now belonging to the United States, over which Spain held sway for centuries.” For Bolton, Spanish institutions shaped these frontier regions, distinguishing them from the northern frontier experiences described by Turner. Recent scholarship has departed dramatically from earlier characterizations of frontiers as meeting points between European civilization and Indian barbarism. By contrast, the “new” Spanish Borderlands are much more dynamic and complex zones of exchange, places where cultural, economic, religious, genetic, military, intellectual, and linguistic interactions intertwine to create something new and unique. At times, Borderlands were places dominated by violence and warfare; at other times, they were characterized by long periods of peace and accommodation. Borderlands transformed both Europeans and Indians, often in unexpected and unintended ways. To complicate matters further, Borderlands are no longer viewed exclusively as contested geographical spaces where Europeans and Indians competed for power. The New Borderlands historiography also recognizes the importance of non-European frontiers: spaces where two or more different Indian powers struggled for regional dominance. Not surprisingly, then, it has become increasingly difficult to draw broad theories and generalizations that can be applied throughout Latin America’s disparate Borderlands regions. No single school of thought, interpretive framework, or methodological approach has come to dominate the field, and the fundamental question of what precisely constitutes a Borderland remains contested and unresolved. The references that follow provide a broad overview of the rich historiography of the “conquest” of Borderlands in Latin America, with particular emphasis on Spain’s colonial possessions that now form part of the United States. Of course, the term “conquest” is misleading, as Europeans rarely exercised complete dominance over those they sought to subjugate and convert. For that reason, the entries below do not focus exclusively on the conquest expeditions of the 16th century. “The conquest” of the Spanish Borderlands was a protracted and incomplete process that in some regions persisted well beyond the end of the colonial period.

Article.  11382 words. 

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies ; History of the Americas

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