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Reviewed by:
  • The Colonial Spanish-American City
  • Tamar Herzog
The Colonial Spanish-American City. By Jay Kinsbruner. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005. Pp. xv, 182. Illustrations. Appendix. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $40.00 cloth; $18.95 paper.

In this short yet concise book, Jay Kinsbruner synthesizes much of the bibliography on Spanish American cities. He begins by tracing the meaning of "urban" and the history of pre-Columbian cities, in order to concentrate on the colonial period. Interested in both structures and processes, Kinsbruner surveys the foundation of cities and their growth, as well as the functioning of municipal government, economy, society, and family. Although a firm believer in the importance of towns during the colonial period, Kinsbruner reconstructs what he refers to as both the greatness and the dark side of urban life. It is precisely this later aspect that he stresses. He writes in the conclusion that "the city as a metaphor for all urban habitats represented hope and opportunity. But it was not unimpeded hope and opportunity, since the urban market-place was unemotional and harsh. . . . Urban life was unforgiving for those who lacked capacity and perhaps not a little luck. But for those with the resilience to suffer the rigors and inconstancy of a market economy, and also perhaps with some luck, the economy could be forgiving" (pp. 130-1).

This book makes many important contributions. It allows non-Spanish readers to get familiar with recent developments in the historiography of Spanish American towns, and it permits those interested in these towns to have a quick yet serious introduction to what they were like. Kinsbruner also makes a methodological point. He argues that Spanish American colonial cities were established and matured in an age of Atlantic capitalism. Among other things, this implies that (overt) class analysis is the most proper means to understand their development. Kinsbruner demonstrates this point by insisting on the role of the middle class, and most particularly the lower-middle class, in colonial society. Written for a broad audience, endnotes are minimal, and are but indicative of a larger body of literature, partially reproduced in the bibliography.

Tamar Herzog
Stanford University
Stanford, California


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