Cynthia Radding (Fellow, 2010–11)
May 16, 2012
The story seems familiar. A North American colonial empire, firmly established since the 1500s, is, by the 1700s, funneling great wealth to the mother country in Europe. The colonies are ethnically, ecologically, and geographically diverse. Slavery, an important part of the colonial economy, is widespread; yet some of the African-descendant population live as free people. Village-dwelling indigenous peoples maintain their community traditions, but along parts of the frontier nomadic tribes live beyond colonial dominion, and the relations between native inhabitants and colonists are tense at best, hostile at worst. By the mid-1700s the colonists are chafing under royal rule. Revolution is in the air. We are, of course, referring not to the British Atlantic seaboard, but to the Spanish empire in what is now the American Southwest. In the eighteenth century the Spanish, like the British, struggled to hang on to their North American colonies. How does Spain’s imperial crisis compare to Great Britain’s? Can we say the eighteenth century witnessed two American Revolutions?