Colonizing commons in the Spanish empire

Colonizing commons in the Spanish empire
20 Mar 2018, 17:30 to 20 Mar 2018, 19:00
IHR Peter Marshall Room, N204, Second Floor, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Vera S. Candiani, Princeton

The Spanish overseas expansion has often been described as having built an “empire of towns”, wherein municipalities acted as “instruments of colonization.” This paper seeks to delve deeper into the meaning of these descriptions by examining the role of commons in the colonization process of the Spanish Atlantic. Historically rooted as part of the urban fabric of Castilian towns since the Middle Ages, as it was elsewhere in Europe, the institution of commons was systematically transplanted to Spanish America by plebeians and the crown. Two central hypotheses are presented here. First, is that it was crown intervention and the confluence between royal priorities and commoner desires and needs that ensured the creation, transmission and persistence of the institution of commons throughout the Hispanic realm. Second, that commons came to lie at the heart of a plebeian form of early modern colonization that was distinct and in tension with that of other classes and that differed from analogous processes in French, English and Portuguese America.


A native of Argentina and graduate of UC Berkeley, Vera S. Candiani teaches early modern Latin America as well as landscape material culture literacy at Princeton University. Her first book, Dreaming of Dry Land: Environmental Transformation in Colonial Mexico City (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2014), won the Conference for Latin American History’s Elinor Melville Prize for best book in Latin American environmental history. Her current projects are comparative – one examines the relationship among commons, peasants and colonization in the early modern French, English and Spanish Americas; the other, wetland desiccation and enclosure in France, England and Mexico.


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