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  • Speaking of Spain: The Evolution of Race and Nation in the Hispanic World by Antonio Feros
  • Scott Eastman
Speaking of Spain: The Evolution of Race and Nation in the Hispanic World. By antonio feros. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2017. 384 pp. $45.00 (hardcover).

Antonio Feros starts Speaking of Spain with a seemingly innocuous question: what is the meaning of nation in the Iberian world? Over the course of seven inter-related chapters, he assesses the impact of intellectuals and their conceptions of racial and national identification in the Spanish Monarchy across the longue durée of the early modern period. In many ways, this is a narrative history that does not enter into protracted historiographical debates. Rather, Feros provides a great deal of background on subjects from slavery and the slave trade to the War of the Spanish Succession. The claim to originality is that the book is a broader and more comprehensive study compared to other texts that have examined a circumscribed chronological or geographical framework. Feros plainly states that while modernists offer invaluable insights into the process of nationalization, the "origins" of these national communities merit equal weight (p. 6).

The introduction begins with a key point: "In 1500, few were able to articulate clearly what it was that constituted Spain" (p. 5). But those who manifested obvious difference were excluded. According to a contemporary source, it was evident that "Those who are Christians, are brothers . . . . Those who are not, are aliens and foreigners" (p. 20). So-called internal others represented a convenient foil for true Spaniards. Through the eighteenth century, this religious calculus informed a sense of collective identification far more than the ideals of race and nation that shaped modern identities. What's more, within the composite Spanish Monarchy, one had to be born within a patria (ius solis) to parents who were natives of the kingdom (ius sanguinis) to be considered a legal subject. Foreigners in Castile, for example, included the Aragonese, the Navarrese, and the Portuguese, among others. The divisive issue of separate historical kingdoms confounded the centralizing dynasties ruling in Britain, France, and Spain through the seventeenth century. A modern nation-state had yet to form from a juridical standpoint, and religion continued to structure the common bonds of Iberian cultures.

The term race, Feros maintains, must be understood as pertaining to lineage and ancestry rather than biology until the late nineteenth century. Early modern references to race often tacitly invoked the perceived negative characteristics of Moors and Jews, peoples who symbolized an inversion of the archetypal Old Christian of Castile and Aragón. Scholars from the time insisted that there had been no mixing [End Page 282] between these communities. They explained that medieval authorities had criminalized supposedly unnatural sexual relationships between the different religious groups. Purity of blood statutes crafted across the sixteenth-century Spanish Empire added to this sense of separation, excluding those outside of the Christian nobility from many ecclesiastical positions, military orders, and important municipal offices. But a shared sense of identity had yet to emerge, as letrados argued that there was not one unified raza, or race of people, because of the existence of multiple historical kingdoms and the differentiated climates of Iberia. Basques, Castilians, Catalans, Galicians, and Portuguese all populated the peninsula, each with diverse characteristics, cultures, and languages. Climate theory became increasingly important as a tool to distinguish the Creoles of Spanish America, born in an inferior land and in a degenerative climate, from peninsular Spaniards.

Yet the Creoles stood at the apex of the social hierarchy elaborated in the Americas, above mestizos, indigenous peoples, mulattos, and the African-descended population. Even though Pope Paul III officially pronounced Indians to be fully human in 1536, abuses and exploitation continued throughout the colonial period. Repúblicas de indios existed as communities apart from colonial centers with inhabitants viewed as minors. No indigenous nobles ever took positions of power or offices with authority over Spaniards. Social norms also divided Spanish America, because, as the jurist Juan Solórzano Pereira noted, "few honorable Spaniards marry Indian or black women" (p. 148). Mestizos and mulattos tended to marry from within growing mixed communities and faced...


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