Journal of Interdisciplinary History 33.1 (2002) 153-154
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Of Things of the Indies:
Essays Old and New in Early Latin America
Of Things of the Indies: Essays Old and New in Early Latin America. By James Lockhart (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2000) 397 pp. $60.00 cloth $22.95 paper
These essays, dating from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, span Lockhart's career. Colonial society, at its broadest, has always been Lockhart's main concern. Since he has found a considerable degree of economic determination in the organization of that society, in both its hierarchy and its geography, two of the pieces in this book ("The Merchants of Early Spanish America" and "Trunk Lines and Feeder Lines") have much to say about commerce, mining, and patterns of Spanish settlement. Two others early in the volume, and from early in his career ("Encomienda and Hacienda" and "The Social History of Early Latin America") [End Page 153] are more standard social history, though both, at their first publication c. 1970, seemed deeply revisionist and revealing.
Perceptive and persuasive as those four essays are, however (and not least of Lockhart's many abilities is to carry his audience along with his lucidity and reasonableness), most readers will find the greatest fascination of this collection in the several pieces dealing with American native people, above all in Mexico. In the early 1970s, Lockhart realized that many manuscripts in Nahuatl—not literary texts but everyday paperwork—from the sixteenth century onward survived in Mexican archives. They had barely been used because few, even in Mexico, could read them. Lockhart, in a mostly autodidactic effort, learned to do so. What came to draw his attention most keenly, beyond even the factual content of the manuscripts, was their language, especially the gradual incorporation of Spanish into Nahuatl that they showed taking place over the three colonial centuries. His views on the implications of this incorporation are most fully laid out in his study The Nahuas After the Conquest (Stanford, 1992), where he correlated stages in the linguistic convergence with a series of practical and organizational shifts in the Spanish-native Mexican relationship. In the present collection, many of the same ideas are found in three essays ("Three Experiences of Culture Contact," "Some Unfashionable Ideas on the History of the Nahuatl Language," and "Receptivity and Resistance"). Although Lockhart denies that he delves deeply into the technicalities of linguistics, the second of these pieces will be arcane enough for most readers.
Uncovering the linguistic convergence can only have strengthened a general view of dealings between Spaniards and American natives that Lockhart already held. He has long argued that congruence, rather than conflict, between colonists and colonized is what needs to be studied and emphasized. What each side took from the other—to what degree, at what time, and with what modifications—is far more central to a proper portrayal of Spanish American history than accounts of native resistance to all things European. In this view, he is at his most unconventional; it leads him, at least, to ignore conflict and maltreatment that are undeniable.
Most readers will not follow him far along that track. But many historians have already gone with him down other paths that he has opened. His insistence from the start, for example, on the need to establish patterns of behavior in the Spanish colonies mainly through the accumulation of individual lives is a lesson that has been widely learned and practiced. Many would say that Lockhart has been the most original of colonial Spanish Americanists writing in English during the last thirty years. This collection is powerful evidence for that opinion.
Southern Methodist University