- The Bishop’s Utopia: Envisioning Improvement in Colonial Peru by Emily Berquist Soule
Through the 1770s and 1780s Bishop Baltasar Jaime Martínez Compañon produced an extraordinary record of the people, flora, and fauna of his bishopric, Trujillo (Peru). Eager to foment his diocese’s economy and to “civilize” its people, whom he deemed still to languish in barbarity after two centuries of Spanish tutelage, [End Page 961] Martinez proposed major expansions in education, new towns, and a sweeping plan to develop the region’s silver mines. He also compiled a vast natural-history collection from the jungles, highlands, and coast, and commissioned 1372 watercolors of his territory. When he was named archbishop of Santa Fe de Bogotá in 1788, he shipped these to Spain, where the specimens were dispersed among royal collections and lost. However, the watercolors, collected as the nine-volume Trujillo del Perú (Madrid, 1978–94), survive in the Spanish royal library. Emily Berquist Soule’s study brings much merited attention to this intriguing man and his intellectual project.
Providing a useful biography of Martínez, The Bishop’s Utopia locates the bishop’s collection and watercolors in his larger reformist ambitions. For although Martínez’s collections were extraordinary in their time, the bishop himself well fits the model of the Spanish enlightenment bureaucrat. A Navarrese noble who had studied law in Aragon and Guipúzcoa, Martínez gathered information and promoted order and economic development in his Peruvian see. His plans for Trujillo were far from radical: indeed, they were a late-Bourbon attempt to enact Toledan ideals, of self-governing Indian pueblos, broad rural education, and state intervention to promote silver mining. The author focuses on the bishop’s efforts to found towns, build schools, and to expand mining in the bishopric without resort to a mita (enforced service)
Good use of local archives allows the author to locate these efforts in local politics, which receive more attention than the illustrations of Trujillo del Perú. A selection of these do provide insight into Martínez’s vision, although using close readings of commissioned watercolors as a guide to the bishop’s “utopianism” requires greater methodological explication. In the end, the bishop’s effects on Trujillan society were less impressive than the archive he produced: only a few villages and schools endured past the bishop’s departure for Santa Fe. Nonetheless, Martínez’s efforts offer a useful case study of late-Bourbon reformism in Peru and its limits.
Unfortunately, The Bishop’s Utopia devotes relatively little attention to locating Martínez in the rich tradition of colonial Spanish reformism, particularly within the Church. Instead, the author attempts to locate Martínez’s archive and his larger agenda in an ill-defined tradition of sixteenth-century utopianism that includes both the humanist fantasies of Thomas More and Francis Bacon, and the Franciscan evangelical enterprise in Mexico (although not the more relevant Jesuit communities in the viceroyalty of Peru). The resultant slippage between utopianism and reformism lessens the analytical rigor of the study and misrepresents both Martínez’s rather mundane attempts to “civilize” Trujillo and stimulate the regional economy, and the political and intellectual character of early-modern utopian works. Although the bishop emerges here as a fascinating figure committed to both knowing and improving his bishopric, greater attention to centuries-long traditions in Peru of both arbitrismo and interest in the natural world would have made this study more useful to scholars of Spanish and Peruvian intellectual history. [End Page 962]