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The Americas 57.2 (2000) 292-293

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Pueblos de indios y educación en el México colonial, 1750-1821. By Dorothy Tanck de Estrada. Mexico: El Colegio de México, 1999. Pp. 665. Bibliography. Index. No Price.

The title of this book is extremely misleading. Although Tanck de Estrada does present important research on education in colonial Mexican Indian villages, the subjects of the book extend much farther. The book probes the finances of Indian villages at least as thoroughly as it does education in villages. In her examination of village finances, Tanck de Estrada also provides information on land, litigation, and the festivities that promoted village solidarity. In fact, the overall theme of the book is not so much education as it is the effort of Bourbon functionaries and bishops to tighten their control of indigenous villages, and the ways villagers resisted this effort. Showing that the promotion of village schools was only part of this program is one of the important contributions of the book.

The geographic coverage of the book is extensive, and in addition to impressive research in Mexico City and Spain Tanck de Estrada also traveled to regional archives. Although the changing dictates of higher authorities form the backbone of the narrative, the author is also able to show how these initiatives were understood, implemented, and resisted on the local level. However, the local and regional cases are used as examples of the wider phenomena that interest the author, and she does not provide much of a sense of how regional differences in society and cultural might have shaped villagers' reactions to innovations. Typically, Tanck de Estrada explains a trend and then illustrates it with a series of brief examples drawn from widely dispersed areas of New Spain.

The most innovative and strongest feature of the book is Tanck de Estrada's detailed explanation of Bourbon efforts first to collect information on and then to tap the resources that Indian communities used to finance their life as social collectivities. The description of the process in which communities lost control of their finances and eventually saw much of their wealth siphoned off to finance Spain's wars is clear and convincing. The author also shows how villagers resisted these efforts through legal appeals and the concealment of resources. Tanck de Estrada also makes many important points about the drive to educate indigenous villagers. [End Page 292] The description of the debates about whether to require instruction in Spanish is illuminating, as is Tanck de Estrada's serious effort to estimate literacy rates.

Ironically, the most important disappointments of the book also have to do with education. Despite the length of the book, Tanck de Estrada ultimately provides relatively little information or analysis about who taught in rural schools and what they taught. There is very little here about who the teachers were and why they would seek out employment in isolated rural areas. Perhaps little information was available on this issue, but a lack of information cannot explain the other weakness of the book. Although Tanck de Estrada provides some general information about the teaching methods and books used in village classrooms, she never really analyzes them. More textual analysis of the books would have been enormously helpful. Without it the reader does not get much of a sense of the meanings and purposes of education in the villages. What morals and ideas did educators want Indian children to absorb? How did they complement or contradict the kinds of learning children received from their parents or neighbors?

Ultimately, this is still a very impressive book. Tanck de Estrada has produced the most important work to date on village schools and the most important overall treatment of how the Bourbons worked to limit the financial autonomy of Indian villages and to transfer their resources to the Crown's own purposes. In a sense the reader gets two books for the price of one, and both are highly recommended for any researcher interested in the politics and culture of Indian villagers in the colonial...


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