Colonial Central America

David Carey

in Latin American Studies

ISBN: 9780199766581
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:
Colonial Central America

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  • Regional and Area Studies
  • History of the Americas



Throughout the colonial period, Central America existed in the shadow of Mexico. The Spanish Empire’s preoccupation with its economic, political, and religious interests in Mexico afforded a certain degree of autonomy to those living and governing in Central America. Perhaps in part because of Spain’s limited interest in Central America, the historiography of the region remained sparse until the 1980s. The recent fluorescence in Central American colonial historiography can be traced to the 1970s with the publication of Severo Martínez Peláez’s La Patria del Criollo (see Martínez Peláez 2009) and Murdo MacLeod’s Spanish Central America (MacLeod 2008), both cited under General Overviews. Radically different in their approaches, sources, methods, and analysis, these two works became the foundations upon which future studies of colonial Central America were built. Extensively using literary works (particularly Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzmán’s Recordación Florida [Fuentes y Guzmán 1933], cited under Primary Sources and Translations), Martínez Peláez applied a Marxist analysis to his study of Guatemala. In his examination of the formation of social classes, large landowners’ exploitation, and what he called the creation of indios as laborers rather than an ethnic group, Martínez Peláez argued that the same exploitative relations that dominated the colonial era continued to rule modern-day Guatemala. In contrast, MacLeod turned to archival documents to demonstrate change over time and across regions in Central America during the colonial era. The influence of the French school associated with the Annales is notable in MacLeod’s focus on monocultural export production, Spain’s 17th-century “depression,” and other aspects of economic and demographic shifts during the colonial period. MacLeod’s impact is reflected in the demographic studies of colonial Central America that followed his groundbreaking book (see Lutz 1994 and Lovell 2005, both cited under Guatemala; Newson 1986, cited under El Salvador and Honduras; and Newson 1987, cited under Nicaragua). The 1992 Quinto Centenario that marked the five-hundred-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World further spurred research on colonial Central America. As one example, more than two hundred researchers participated in the first Congreso Centroamericano de Historia (Central American History conference) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 1992. Beginning with the Fourth Congress in 1998, participants established a regular roundtable about colonial history. Because the majority of scholarship over the last three decades has tended to focus on the initial contact and early 16th century and the period after 1720, 16th- and 17th-century Central America is ripe with opportunities. Beyond a few fine studies, some of the best of which focus on the African presence in Central America (see Lokken 2001, cited under Society and Religion; Lokken 2004, cited under El Salvador and Honduras; and Cáceres Gómez 2000, cited under Costa Rica), the field is wide open.

Article.  10004 words. 

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies ; History of the Americas

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