- The Inquisition in Colonial Latin America: Selected Writings of Richard E. Greenleaf by James Riley
Richard Greenleaf developed pioneering studies of the Mexican Inquisition in the 1960s and 1970s, setting a high standard of intellectual quality and demonstrating a fierce commitment to the craft of archival research. He was, in short, the quintessential historian's historian, a scholar who defended above all the value of documentation, and who saw theoretical interpretations as unnecessary accretions—even as imaginary impositions of ahistorical views. This book is a collection of various essays Greenleaf published in professional journals from the 1960s through the 1990s; it showcases his dedication to deep archival research, dispassionate analysis of the Inquisition, and appreciation for the ways the administrative apparatus of the Inquisition defied easy stereotypes of the Black Legend.
The collected essays offer a unique opportunity for students of colonial Mexico and the Mexican Inquisition. Greenleaf produced, during his lifetime, two major monographs on the Mexican Church and Inquisition in the sixteenth century. Yet a vast range of his articles, published on a wide range of issues concerning the Mexican Inquisition, remained until the publication of this volume dispersed among a wide array of professional journals. This volume is organized into four sections: The Inquisition and [End Page 431] Indigenous Religious Practices; The Inquisition as Bureaucracy; The Inquisition, the State and Religion; and The Inquisition in the Borderlands. Some of these essays have been more widely appropriated than others. In particular, the essays on the administrative history of the Mexican Inquisition have long had a wide readership. The collection here reproduces Greenleaf's essay on the "great visitas" of Medina Rico in the seventeenth century and on the development of the inquisitional confraternity of San Pedro Mártir. Likewise, this volume reproduces the fascinating case of Antonio de Espejo, an Inquisitional familiar known for murder, among other crimes.
The section on indigenous peoples before the Mexican Inquisition is the most promising as a section of essays. Greenleaf's essays show the promise of using inquisitional proceedings for understanding the persistence of indigenous religion and culture in post-contact Mexico. He sees relative continuity of indigenous culture after contact. The two essays in this section examine the long, complicated history of the Mexican Inquisition's treatment of indigenous Mexicans, paying particular attention to the early idolatry trials, such as that of don Carlos de Texcoco, as well as the spectacular cases in Oaxaca in the 1560s and the 1600s.
Throughout, Greenleaf maintains his dedication to the value of archival evidence above all else. In his words, historians "should always remember that it is important to let the documents speak for themselves whenever possible rather than force them into a fanciful or preconceived framework, a framework often built on grand generalizations and untested hypotheses" (p. 55).
The other two sections showcase Greenleaf's range as a historian. There are essays on the Mexican Inquisition and the Enlightenment, the Masonic movement and North American Protestants, as well as essays on the Inquisition in Louisiana and New Mexico. Overall, the collection of essays brings together a wide range of the topics that Greenleaf considered over a long and fruitful career.
Taken as a recent publication, the volume is useful to the extent that it brings together articles found in diverse journals. The editor offers succinct and useful introductions, and there is a nice timeline of Greenleaf's career along with a list of his publications. Unfortunately, two editorial decisions are difficult to understand: the footnotes have been erased, and parenthetical references to archival sources from the original journal articles are scrubbed. This obscures the evidence and sends an interested reader back to the original journal article. This seems unhappily ironic, given the detail of Greenleaf's research and the emphasis he placed on archival documentation. Although this volume does include a summary of the archival documents used in the individual chapters, it is not especially helpful: in this format a reader cannot discern which documents are which or in which...