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The Colonial Spanish-American City

Urban Life in the Age of Atlantic Capitalism

By Jay Kinsbruner

Publication Year: 2005

The colonial Spanish-American city, like its counterpart across the Atlantic, was an outgrowth of commercial enterprise. A center of entrepreneurial activity and wealth, it drew people seeking a better life, with more educational, occupational, commercial, bureaucratic, and marital possibilities than were available in the rural regions of the Spanish colonies. Indeed, the Spanish-American city represented hope and opportunity, although not for everyone. In this authoritative work, Jay Kinsbruner draws on many sources to offer the first history and interpretation in English of the colonial Spanish-American city. After an overview of pre-Columbian cities, he devotes chapters to many important aspects of the colonial city, including its governance and administrative structure, physical form, economy, and social and family life. Kinsbruner’s overarching thesis is that the Spanish-American city evolved as a circumstance of trans-Atlantic capitalism. Underpinning this thesis is his view that there were no plebeians in the colonial city. He calls for a class interpretation, with an emphasis on the lower-middle class. His study also explores the active roles of women, many of them heads of households, in the colonial Spanish-American city.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book had its origin in an unpublished essay that I wrote titled ‘‘The False Plebeian in Colonial Spanish American History/Historiography,’’ in which I traced the use of the term‘‘plebeian’’ from Roman times to the present. I want to thank Ralph della Cava, Lyman Johnson, and Robert Patch for reading that essay and giving me their thoughts. As I worked on the ...

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pp. xi-xii

This book is both a history and an interpretation of the colonial Spanish- American city. So far as I can tell, it is the first book of its kind in English, and there are precious few in Spanish. This is probably because the problems attached to writing such a book are many. A definitive rendering would require volumes, and a relatively short synthesis based upon secondary ...

A Note about the Terms "Town Council," "Stores," and "Shops"

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pp. xiii

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Chapter 1: The Colonial City by Definition and Origin

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pp. 1-12

An appreciation of the city, the apotheosis of modern civilization to many— and there is no argument to the contrary in this book—demands an understanding of the term ‘‘urban.’’ What constitutes an urban aggregation, and what distinguishes the urban from the rural, should be the point of departure for an inquiry into the character and course of the colonial Spanish- ...

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Chapter 2: The Pre-Columbian City

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pp. 13-22

There were cities in the Western Hemisphere centuries before the Europeans arrived. However, this was not the case in the Caribbean. The Taino Arawaks, the largest Indian culture in the Caribbean, resident on virtually all the islands of the Greater and Lesser Antilles, frequently lived in towns with a few to several hundred or even a thousand houses and as many as several ...

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Chapter 3: The Colonial City Ordained and Structured

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pp. 23-32

The title of this chapter conveys multiple meanings. First, it refers to the royal decrees during the first decades of the sixteenth century that delineated the physical structure of towns and cities to be founded in the Spanish Empire in America. Second, it refers to the ordination of a hierarchical socioeconomic structure acknowledged and sustained by the differential distribution ...

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Chapter 4: The Administration of the Colonial City

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pp. 33-48

Colonial Spanish-American towns and cities were often much larger geographically than their North American counterparts. With regard to area under their jurisdiction, Spanish-American cities were rather more like North American counties than cities.The city of Quito held jurisdiction over an area that ran approximately 200 miles in length and 75 to 90 miles in ...

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Chapter 5: The City Visualized

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pp. 49-63

In multiple ways the towns and cities of colonial Spanish America were dissimilar, a consequence of such factors as geographic location, including terrain, altitude, climate, and annual rainfall. They also varied according to their demographic character: whether they contained large numbers of slaves, Indians, and castas, as well as according to the male/female ratio, the ...

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Chapter 6: The Urban Economy

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pp. 64-84

It bears repeating. It was about the economy, and the economy was one of commercial capitalism. This is central to an understanding of the colonial city and this book generally. The city and capitalism were tied inextricably together, and at any given point along the historical continuum it is sometimes difficult to assign greater value to one or the other. The question of ...

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Chapter 7: Urban Society

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pp. 85-102

What society was wrought by the economy we have just seen? The answer is in two parts. The first has to do with racial prejudice and its consequences, the second with perception and its consequences. Spanish-American society was formed around a legally defined cognitive caste system—the society of castes (sistema or régimen de castas), which placed whites at the top and African or American-born slaves at the bottom ...

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Chapter 8: Caste and Class in the Urban Context

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pp. 103-109

Colonial Spanish-American society was organized by imperial policy into castes, as we have seen, but it was also divided into socioeconomic classes through the actions of the marketplace, even when this was distorted in favor of some and to the prejudice of others. Classes formed within the castes. Among whites, for instance, some were very rich, some were very ...

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Chapter 9: The Urban Family

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pp. 110-119

Colonial Spanish-American society was organized in law and custom around the conjugal nuclear family. However, many families formed through consensual unions, and indeed there were many single-parent families (overwhelmingly single female–headed families). Each member of the conjugal family was assigned specific rights and responsibilities. Some familial rights ...

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Chapter 10: The Urban Dialogue

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pp. 120-129

Once people came together and constituted the urban habitat, set out its form, fulfilled its function, and benefited from its immediate possibilities, the city and town as well were defined in reality and in our imaginations also. But there was more to it, as Lewis Mumford exquisitely conceived and eloquently expressed. Mumford understood that in its highest definitional ...

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Chapter 11: Conclusion: The Paradox

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pp. 130-134

Let us go back to the beginning. The colonial Spanish American urban form derived from the Roman ideal, even in the walled variant of port cities such as Havana, San Juan, and Cartagena. The urban function derived from the western European commercial enterprise of the early modern period. The urban function fructified the commercial capitalism which in almost all instances ...


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pp. 135-136

Appendix: A Comparison of Key Elements in the Ordenanzas of 1573 and in Vitruvius

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pp. 137-140


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pp. 141-154


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pp. 155-156

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 157-172


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pp. 173-182

E-ISBN-13: 9780292796997
E-ISBN-10: 0292796994
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292706217
Print-ISBN-10: 0292706219

Page Count: 198
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 4 maps, 1 table
Publication Year: 2005