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  • Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío and Spanish North America by John Tutino
  • Frank Trey Proctor III
Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío and Spanish North America. By John Tutino (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011. x plus 698 pp.).

Braudelian in scope, Making a New World presents a history of Spanish North America—stretching from north of the Valley of Mexico to the current American Southwest—from conquest through the onset of the Mexican Independence, with Tutino promising a second volume focused on the “Bajío Revolution” of 1810 and Mexican Independence. His primary focus is the Bajío, particularly the silver-mining city of Guanajuato, the agrarian capitalist urban centers of San Miguel el Grande (now San Miguel Allende) and Querétaro, and their hinterlands, which shared similar and intertwined histories traced out in painstaking detail.

His main argument is that the first fully commercial and recognizably capitalist society in the world developed in Catholic Spanish North America, fully fluorescent by 1770. Based on Fernand Braudel's discussions Tutino defines capitalism as “a historical trajectory, a process of long-term change, defined by the rising dominance of concentrated economic powers that promote, rule, and reshape market relations, claiming for a powerful few ever more of the gains of exchange, all the while invading, constraining, and eventually eliminating domains of subsistence production, searching for profit while pressing states and cities, communities and families—and churches—to adapt to its ways” (12). Tutino finds a labor market increasingly reliant on wage (not coerced) labor, predatory entrepreneurs driven by profit rather than prestige, expanding commercial agriculture, and a mediating rather than an all-powerful Spanish colonial state, all operating within a regional society that was not ruled by a series of rigid castes nor constrained by Catholicism.

This argument represents an important corrective of the Anglophile and Hispano-phobic conceptions of the rise of capitalism and the Atlantic World. Tutino challenges the received wisdom that capitalism and Spain's America [End Page 253] were historically antithetical and that capitalism was Protestant Europe's, and more specifically an Anglo-Atlantic, “gift to the world, or plague upon it” (2).

These arguments rest on how fundamentally different Spanish North America was from other centers of Spanish colonialism. Silver production powered this region's economy and Spanish silver, not English textiles, drove the expanding global economy after the fifteenth century. Until roughly 1700, Spanish North America trailed only Peru in terms of silver production before becoming the center of world production thereafter. And, unlike highland Peru and Mesoamerica, this region was not home to established indigenous civilizations. Thus, there were no large, sedentary indigenous populations from which to coerce sufficient labor and no established institutions of community rights and self-rule that could limit entrepreneurial powers and commercial ways. For example, only 241 indigenous communities in Spanish North America claimed corporate rights in 1803 compared to 3,840 such communities in Mesoamerica.

In this context Tutino argues that “the ways of production that Braudel separated [subsistence; production for exchange; and “the real home of capitalism” or production ruled by concentrations of commercial power] were increasingly joined in a historic process of integration that over the centuries reinforced the powers of capitalist predators, and eroded the capacity of sustenance producers . . . to stand resistant (if often poor) in the face of power” (11–12). Key to this vision is the persistent (and conscious) expansion of commercial agriculture through the displacement of livestock ever northward and the usurpation of cultivated subsistence agricultural land; the relatively quick transition to waged labor in mining; and, the increasing numbers of waged laborers on agricultural estates, all paralleled by a general decline in wages for miners, especially the loss of the partido (ore shares), and other workers, even as the economy generally expanded over time.

Tutino also presents a compelling interpretation of the riots of that shook the region in 1766–1767, setting them in a post-Seven Years War Atlantic context. Here however, unlike in British North America, rioters failed to secure the allegiance of the local elite, making success unattainable. Tens of thousands of rebels across the Bajío violently...


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pp. 253-255
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