- A Colonial Reformer through Rose-Colored Glasses
Emily Berquist Soule, in The Bishop’s Utopia, reconstructs Baltasar Jaime Martínez Compañón’s life, work, and proposed reforms as bishop in Trujillo, Peru, during the late eighteenth century. Although the monograph dialogues with a number of historiographies, two dominant themes emerge as Berquist Soule addresses the bishop’s interactions with diocesan priests, elites, bureaucrats, and laypeople. First, the study compellingly demonstrates how existing hierarchies and bureaucratic inefficiencies could undermine and corrupt even the best-intentioned reforms and proposals. Second, Berquist Soule depicts the bishop as a sometimes “radical” reformer who, in a period marked by violent relations between Indians and Spaniards in Peru, time and again championed the humanity and capacity of Peru’s Indians. The sources and evidence from local communities themselves are minimal, so while Berquist Soule wanted to see how local communities adopted the bishop’s reforms, the Indian’s voice is often only a whisper. Even then it is unclear who is speaking: is it Indians living on ancestral lands, migrating Indians, mestizos, castas, or Afro-Peruvians? Nevertheless, the author’s narrative writing style makes the bishop’s story approachable and engaging, even to a non-specialist audience. The reader wants to champion Martínez Compañón as the radical reformer providing a nonviolent solution to Bourbon reform discontent and may feel frustrated by the continual stalling and failure of his school and town proposals; yet, there is the underlying doubt: would such a radical figure really be promoted to archbishop of Bogotá in New Granada? Even if this late-life promotion was actually a demotion, would it not have been easier to transfer Martínez Compañón to a less successful province?
The majority of the book is organized thematically, spanning the thirteen years Martínez Compañón served as bishop of Trujillo (1776–90), a diocese in the northern Peruvian viceroyalty marked by its climatic, geographic, and ethnographic diversity. An introduction highlights the bishop’s early life and [End Page 47] details the multitude of sources Berquist Soule uses that span twenty archives and special collections, nine cities, and four countries. Several of these sources merit particular mention. First is the over 1,300 watercolors in the bishop’s nine-volume Trujillo del Perú (c. 1782–85), which the Spanish Ministry of Culture reproduced from 1978 to 1994. While other scholars use these images, Berquist Soule’s interpretation cross-references the images themselves and also with an additional inventory of the bishop’s twenty-four–box collection of local plants and animals collected during his tenure in Trujillo. The study demonstrates the effectiveness of this technique by referencing the twenty-four strategically selected watercolors reprinted in the book. Next is a set of personal letters between Martínez Compañón and Antonio Hermenegildo de Querejanzu. By consulting these letters, in addition to the many administrative letters and the records from the bishop’s unprecedented two-year, eight-month, and seven-day visita throughout his bishopric, Berquist Soule is able to give life and complexities to a lesser-known prelate of centuries past.
The first chapter explains Martínez Compañón’s trajectory from Cadiz, Spain, to Lima, where he was appointed the musical director of the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral in 1768, at the age of twenty-nine. The journey brought the learned Basque scholar through Montevideo, Córdoba, Potosí, alongside Lake Titicaca, and Cuzco before finally arriving in Lima. Berquist Soule analyzes Martínez Compañón’s extensive library, where political and natural science titles were particularly prominent, to explain intellectual influences impacting the utopian vision he advocated in Trujillo. However, less than six pages explore the thirteen years Martínez Compañón spent in Lima, where his lived experiences undoubtedly impacted his views toward Indians and their status and capacity in Spanish America. The narrative style implies the bishop had already read every book before arriving in Peru, when in actuality, the library inventory dates from his arrival in Trujillo. This...