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  • The Spanish Caribbean and the Atlantic World in the Long Sixteenth Century ed. by Ida Altman and David Wheat
  • Robert Schwaller
The Spanish Caribbean and the Atlantic World in the Long Sixteenth Century. Edited by Ida Altman and David Wheat. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019, Pp. xxv, 301. Maps. Tables. Glossary. Index. $40.00 Paper; $40.00 e-book.

The colonial history of the Caribbean often evokes images of sugar plantations and toiling African bodies. Although this linkage speaks to the economic and social order of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Caribbean, it overlooks the early period of colonialism in the region. This edited volume seeks to reconfigure our understanding [End Page 480] of this region to better emphasize its early dynamism and centrality to the construction of Spanish colonialism in the Americas. The works included highlight that, far from being a backwater quickly superseded by conquests of indigenous mainland empires, the Caribbean represented a multivalent and interconnected space. Importantly, the volume constitutes this geographic focus broadly, to include not just the Greater and Lesser Antilles but also the mainland coastlines bordering the Caribbean Sea.

Editors Ida Altman and David Wheat open the volume with an introductory essay that discusses the importance of refocusing Anglophone scholarship onto the early Caribbean. The remaining essays appear in five thematic parts. The first part discusses the experiences of indigenous people in the Caribbean. Lauren Macdonald examines early missionary efforts on Hispaniola. Her essay focuses on the conjuncture of religious beliefs and how each side of this encounter attempted to understand the other through its own cultural frameworks. In the second chapter, Cacey Farnsworth argues that the revolt of Agueybana II in 1510 reveals the complex political maneuvering of indigenous elites and communities as they sought to negotiate the arrival of Spaniards. The role played by indigenous allies in Spanish responses to the revolt reminds us that the later use of this strategy in mainland conquests grew out of experiences in the Caribbean. Erin Stone examines the centrality of indigenous slavery to early Conquest encounters. Despite the low prices indigenous captives brought, many conquistadors saw selling them as one of the very few means to profit from their service.

The second part turns to the experiences of Europeans. Chapters by Ida Altman and Shannon Lalor use prosopography to tease out how Spanish settlers in the region sought to protect their interests, create social networks, and secure a legacy for themselves and their descendants. Brian Hamm turns to Portuguese residents of the early Caribbean. Although critics have frequently labeled Portuguese as dangerous and sometimes subversive, he argues that in most cases their cultural affinity with Castilians insulated them from such attacks and allowed them to play formative roles in the economic, social, political, and military history of the region.

The third part highlights Africans in the region. Using an innovative methodology, Marc Eagle reassesses the early slave trade to the Spanish Caribbean, offering a much more detailed regional picture than what is currently in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. David Wheat investigates the social space of Biafadas in early Havana. He finds that Biafada social ties reflect adaptation to local relationships as well as transatlantic rivalries. J. Clark’s essay begins the fourth part, turning to the environment and health. He demonstrates how the physical location of the port of Veracruz shifted according to what those in power needed from the site it occupied. Pablo Gómez traces the evolution of Spanish health policy in the early Caribbean, emphasizing the significant role played by hospitals as a site of growing state power.

The fifth part closes the volume by examining international commercial networks. Spencer Tyce traces the rise and fall of south German merchant ventures. Although [End Page 481] these ventures grew out of extensive connections between Germans and Charles V, they built upon existing mercantile relationships that intimately bound Germans and Spaniards. Gabriel de Avilez Rocha looks east to the Azores and their relationship to the Caribbean. He argues that the Azores represented an extension of the Caribbean, a first port of call for most return voyages, and a contested space for budding national rivalries. Overall, the breadth of this...


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