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The Political and Institutional History of Colonial Spanish America



This essay argues for a need to develop a new political history of colonial Spanish America in order to bring up to date the old institutional history of the Spanish empire. In recent decades, historians of colonial Spanish America have not shown much interest in the study of political and institutional history. Originally, this constituted a welcome reaction against the previous emphasis on the institutional and legal aspects of the Spanish empire. But one effect of this historiographical development has been that, while our knowledge of the social history of colonial Spanish America has progressed in an impressive way, our knowledge of the mechanisms of imperial rule has made very little progress in the last 50 years. As a result, colonial historians have to rely on antiquated or inadequate notions regarding the political and institutional nature of Spanish colonialism. However, the new political history of colonial Spanish America should not focus on the study of the colonial state, but rather on the political culture of the Spanish empire.

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