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  • Interpreting Spanish Colonialism: Empires, Nations, and Legends
  • James Schofield Saeger
Interpreting Spanish Colonialism: Empires, Nations, and Legends. Edited by Christopher Schmidt-Nowara and John M. Phillips (Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 2005) 282 pp. $32.95

This collection's authors investigate the Spanish Empire, its historiography, and nation-building. They explore "the supposed backwardness of Spain and Latin America," historical imagination, and modernity (2).

Javier Morillo-Alicea examines the nineteenth-century Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, which together comprised the "Spanish Imperial Archipelago." There colonial reformers and colonizers confronted and learned from each other. Imperial race policies surfaced in Madrid in 1887 at the "first-ever Philippine Exposition," which painted a woeful picture of primitives (38).

Dale Tomich sees Cuba's political economy through the eyes of Francisco Arango y Parreño, whose Discurso sobre la Agricultura de la Habana y Medios de Fomentarla (1792) "provided the theoretical framework for the development of Cuba into the world's leading sugar producer" (55). Arrango advocated a freer trade and a reformed slave system made more efficient by Enlightenment ideas.

Astrid Cubano-Iguina writes that in Puerto Rico before 1898, "The question of identity . . . monopolized a large fragment of the public sphere" (104). Certain writers in the periodical press criticized Spain; others expressed concern about "the implications and meanings of being Spanish" (101). Few advocated independence. A vibrant press discourse [End Page 282] produced diverse views, a "process of redefinition and strengthening of identity" (104).

Antonio Feros' remarkable essay shows how Spanish identity emerged historiographically. Pompeyo Geyer in 1887 concluded that the former colonies shared an identity, in the form of "an essence or spirit" (109). Eventually, the general perception was that its essential elements were the Reconquista, the American conquests, and the anti-French uprisings of 1808. For the last century, Spanish historians have thought that Spanish American nations should "recognize Spain as the civilizing fatherland" (111). This White Legend became "hegemonic," espoused by liberals and conservatives as well as socialists and Falangists. Most Spanish historians agreed that theirs was "the most perfect colonialism in the history of humankind" (114). Historians served national and imperial myths. Among their surprising assertions were that Spanish colonizers were uninterested in wealth and that race mixture in America was state policy emerging from the lack of race prejudice in Spain. Feros argues convincingly that belief in a benevolent Spanish Empire is an essential part of how modern Spaniards see themselves.

José del Valle notes that contemporary Spain "is interested in building solid bonds with Latin America" and that the White Legend is essential to the agenda (140). Spain's linguistic diplomacy, intended to court Latin American intellectuals, reaches back to Ramón Menéndez Pidal, whose nineteenth-century neocolonial language policy touted the "superior qualities of the dialect of Castile" (157).

Jeremy Adelman uses the writing of Latin American history after independence to demonstrate the connections between the two eras. Creole historians wrote "foundational texts" that presented "different models of order and citizenship" (164). Writing history was part of nation-building, and the assertion of "Colonial oppression was the bedrock" (165). Argentine Bartolomé Mitre and Colombian José Manuel Restrepo located "the sources of nationhood in the experiences of Spanish colonialism" (166). Although both offered a Black Legend interpretation that depicted the Spaniards as cruel oppressors, Adelman astutely points out that the Black Legend did not predetermine their narratives.

Nieto-Philips explains a nineteenth-century literary movement in the United States as an American White Legend. Between 1880 and 1915, Helen Hunt Jackson and Hubert Howe Bancroft, complemented by lesser luminaries like Charles Fletcher Lummis and Lebaron Bradford Price, idealized Spanish Indian policy and wrote mestizos out of local history.

Samuel Truett maintains that Herbert Eugene Bolton can teach "modest lessons" about transnational history (217). Bolton's "Epic of Greater America" is usually dismissed as a tract for the era of the Good Neighbor, although he developed his idea thirty years earlier. The Bolton of the Americas, was the "other Bolton," whose "mission [was] to rescue America from the clutches of national history" (215, 239).

This volume is an interdisciplinary, well-conceived, and thoroughly [End Page 283] worthy attempt to show that, despite...


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