The Americas 61.2 (2004) 260
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When Adriaan C. Van Oss died suddenly in 1984 at age 37, he left behind an impressive body of work. This volume, sponsored by the Center for Latin American Research and Documentation in Amsterdam (CEDLA), brings together what the editorial board considered to be the more "timeless" of his articles. Three of them appeared in journals; six others are published here for the first time. Topics include quantitative comparisons of bishoprics in colonial South America; the relationship between ecclesiastical building activity, demographic patterns, and economic diversification in New Spain; the demography and economy of colonial Venezuela; regional patterns of change in colonial Central America; and the effects of the Cristero war of the late 1920s in Hidalgo. Obviously this was a wide-ranging scholar with voracious curiosity and great energy.
No one reading this volume will be able to escape the sense of opening a time capsule—this is clearly a historian who was passionate about the scholarly issues of the moment, and was deeply engaged in forging his own contribution to those debates. Thus Van Oss's inventiveness and resourcefulness in the use of sources (mostly chronicles and other published primary material) and manipulation of statistical data (especially impressive in the articles on the correlation between architectural activity and economic activity, and on the church in Hidalgo) are to a certain extent lost on contemporary readers. Sadly, his commitment to the idea that cultural history and economic history can and should talk to each other will also seem naïve to most readers, and though an argument could be made that this is the future of our discipline, when it happens it won't happen in exactly the way that Van Oss tried to make it work. It is difficult to say, then, whether Van Oss has been well served by this belated publication of his work. Had he lived, this volume leaves no doubt that he would have continued to greatly enrich the literature on colonial Spanish America. But at the same time it sets his powerful intellect in amber, not the place for such a lively historian.