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Eighteenth-Century Studies 38.3 (2005) 539-545

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Geographies and Spaces:

Eighteenth-Century Nationalisms Revisited

University of San Francisco
Stein, Stanley J. and Barbara H. Stein. Apogee of Empire: Spain and New Spain in the Age of Charles III, 1759–1789 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003). Pp. ix & 464. $52.00 cloth.
Chávez, Thomas E. Spain and the Independence of the United States. An Intrinsic Gift (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002). Pp. xii & 286. $21.95 paper.
Melton, James Van Horn. The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). Pp. xiv & 284. $22.00 paper.

These books offer an expanded sense of geography. They tell of internationalism and universalism rather than describing national units that characterize development in the modern period. Their geographies show many in-and-out crisscrossings of influence instead of staying within the neat borders we are accustomed to expect from national histories and cultural studies. The geographical consciousness, in fact, recalls the eighteenth-century preference for large systems by writers such as Raynal, Buffon, and Robertson.

The Steins' book begins in Italy, moves to Spain, discusses the special relationship between New Spain (Mexico), Spain's wealthiest colony in the late empire because of its metal production, and then ends up in France. Charles III had been ruler in Naples, the governmental center of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, a Spanish possession, for 25 years before he was called back at his brother's death to rule in Spain. His rule in Naples was benevolent; intellectuals such as Giambattista Vico were attracted to the kingdom's stability. On his return to Spain, he brought with him, then, his Italian experience of dealing with a powerful landed aristocracy, an entrenched Church, and an agricultural economy that was subject to grain shortages. He and his Italian advisors found similar conditions in Spain; and their attempts at reform—and the resistance of factions in Spain and Spain's American colonies—are the subject of the Steins' research and analysis. What passes for "enlightened despotism" in other European countries in that period is shown to be vastly different in Spain, where state innovations were constantly challenged by established interests and fiat from above did not work.

An economic approach to a study of such an internationally formed state in the eighteenth century has many advantages. For example, the 1765, 1778, and 1789 regulations, aimed at reform by proclaiming "free trade," were related to several non-national causes and consequences. The first, determined to be a response to the English seizure of Havana and Manila in 1762 which opened up Cuba to English and Anglo-American trade, attempted to reduce the Cadiz monopoly on shipping to and from the Americas by permitting ports in other parts of Spain to participate in this lucrative business. The expulsion of the Jesuit order in 1767 from Spain and its Spanish American colonies, scapegoating the order whose holdings and power rivaled the monarchy's, is another example of how the policies of Charles's ministers had international causes and consequences. Portugal had expelled the Jesuits in 1759 and France in 1764. Spanish and Spanish [End Page 539] American Jesuits retreated to Italy and Russia where they significantly influenced artistic and intellectual developments.

Spain's economy, which was based on colonial policies of exporting Spanish agricultural and manufactured goods to its American colonies (as well as re-exporting goods produced in other European nations, such as luxury French textiles) and importing mainly specie from Mexico, was arguably different from the more advanced colonial arrangements of England, France, and Holland. These countries had developed their domestic economies before they undertook their colonial enterprises; thus they were more protected from dependence on overseas sources and threats from other powers in the form of piracy and smuggling. Unlike these countries, Spain and Portugal needed their colonies; Spain made money, not just from the silver it took in but also from licenses, customs revenues, minting fees, and the shipping and warehousing businesses. However, increasingly in the eighteenth century, Spain's...


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