Ivonne del Valle, Anna More, Rachel Sarah O'Toole, eds. Iberian Empires and the Roots of Globalization. Hispanic Issues Series. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2020. 368 pp. $69.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8265-2252-8; $34.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8265-2253-5.
Reviewed by María Victoria Marquez (CONICET, National University of Cordoba)
Published on H-Atlantic (September, 2021)
Commissioned by Bryan Rindfleisch (Marquette University)
Globalization and the Early Modern Iberian Empires: Networks, Agencies, and Institutions
Iberian Empires and the Roots of Globalization is a collective volume edited by Ivonne del Valle, Anna More, and Rachel Sarah O’Toole, part of the well-known and prolific Hispanic Issues series on Iberian cultural and literary studies published since 1986. The book presents an interdisciplinary approach to the early modern period, which includes the editors’ introduction (“Iberian Empires and a Theory of Early Modern Globalization”); eleven chapters written by historians, art historians, and scholars in the fields of cultural and literary Hispanic and Portuguese studies; and an afterword (“Reimagining Colonial Latin America from a Global Perspective”) where Raúl Marrero-Fente and Nicholas Spadaccini review the volume’s contributions and tie them back to the overall theme of the Hispanic Issues series.
The introduction effectively summarizes the theoretical framework used to analyze early modern globalization, which informs the many chapters of this volume. The stated goal is to make visible “the mechanics of globalization” by analyzing the networks and multiple centers that emerged with Iberian imperialism beyond Europe, in the Americas, Asia, and Africa (p. 1). To this end, the editors place the book at the intersection of cultural studies and history, while carefully differentiating their vision from established epistemologies in both disciplinary areas. Del Valle, More, and O’Toole criticize the world history line of inquiry to early modern globalization that presents “all-encompassing structures that ignore how the specific agents, marked by age, gender, religion, or race negotiated structural impositions” (p. 6). Instead, the book addresses the Iberian empires as “global institutions” of polycentric nature, building this premise on the concept of “polycentric monarchies” as conceived by Pedro Cardim, Tamar Herzog, José Javier Ruiz Ibáñez, and Gaetano Sabatini in their edited collection, Polycentric Monarchies: How Did Early Modern Spain and Portugal Achieve and Maintain a Global Hegemony? (2012) (p. 8). At the same time, Del Valle, More and O'Toole adhere to a growing number of scholars (political and economic historian Bartolomé Yun Casalilla comes to mind, Iberian World Empires and the Globalization of Europe 1415-1668 ) who have reexamined the role of the Iberian empires in early modern globalization and have marked the shortcomings of traditional conceptualizations. Another example of this is Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-system theory, which posits a highly fixed structure of center and peripheries.
Key to the book’s approach are the negotiations between the local and the global that shaped the Iberian empires. By this, the editors mean “to understand not only the structures that connected the globe ... but also how the people of this newly globalized world constructed the specifics of these structures through their beliefs, social relations, and cultural practices” (p. 1). In this way, they emphasize the many instances of participation, mediation, and agency of the indigenous, the enslaved—in sum, the exploited and marginalized subjects of the Iberian empires—and their interactions with the state's agents and institutions. This is the hidden part of early modern globalization that this volume attempts to excavate and reframe. This idea is not at all new, since postcolonial and subaltern studies scholars have pointed in this direction, fostering an epistemological turn since the 1980s and 1990s. While the editors of Iberian Empires acknowledge this influence, they consciously propose to move away from the narrower analysis of discourses and narratives—which has been, in fact, the main criticism leveled against postcolonial scholarship in recent years. This book, on the contrary, looks at the material, that is, the structural dimension, and its links with the cultural realm. As the editors write in the introduction, “In order to decenter Europe in the story of globalization we insist on an integration of textual or representational evidence with material and economic circumstances” (p. 5).
This volume also integrates critical historiography about globalization and global history. In this regard, Iberian Empires complements other prominent scholars’ works, such as J. H. Elliot (Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492–1830 ), or Anthony Pagden (The Burdens of Empire: 1539 to the Present ), zooming in on the religious and cultural aspects that have been neglected in past attempts at discussing globalization in the Spanish and Portuguese spheres. Focusing on the many forms of exploitation that arose from the colonial enterprise across the world, the editors propose to scrutinize “the local manifestations of global institutions such as Christianity or finance capital” and to “investigate interactions among these institutions at all levels of Iberian imperial networks to understand where they broke down, were diverted from intended ends or were resisted outright” (p. 4).
The eleven chapters in this edition respond to these goals from diverse perspectives. In terms of the geographical scope, the chapters mostly deal with the Spanish Empire or revolve around the Jesuit Order’s missionary networks. As a consequence, the Lusophone sphere is less present. America and Asia are at the center of most chapters, while territorial Africa and its many polities in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries are rarely mentioned. It is worth noting that despite the volume’s concern with bringing to the forefront non-European voices and agencies, “a truly non-Western local vantage point is missing,” as the editors confess in the introduction (p. 14). A clear symptom of this issue is that many of the chapters are focused on the Jesuit Order in one form or another, that is, the authors focus on the Jesuits’ vision, their missionary program, or their members’ perspective about non-Western subjects.
The one contribution that is directly involved with issues of economic and financial history is Bernd Hausberger’s chapter (“Precious Metals in the Americas at the Beginning of the Global Economy”), which argues for a revision of the role of Latin America in the emerging global financial networks and circulation of silver. Other essays are mostly concerned with Christian institutions and their agents. This includes compelling discussions on the early modern roots of pervasive notions of labor, such as “A New Moses: Vasco de Quiroga’s Hospitals and the Transformation of ‘Indians’ from ‘Bárbaros’ to ‘Pobres.’” Here, del Valle unravels the implications of Vasco de Quiroga’s hospital projects for the “Indians” as a tool for civilizing and, therefore, turning the marginalized and racialized Mexican population into useful subjects available for labor recruitment. Another study on the issue of labor is More’s “Jesuit Networks and the Transatlantic Slave Trade: Alonso de Sandoval’s Naturaleza, policía sagrada y profana (1627).” This is perhaps the most provocative chapter as the author establishes a link between seventeenth-century political theology, early modern slavery, and contemporary racialized notions of labor. Here, More traces the emergence of an “incipient racial construction of globalized labor” in the seventeenth century (p. 134). Her analysis of Alonso de Sandoval’s treatise, interpreted in the context of the exponential growth of the slave trade, reveals how this Jesuit theologian built a new racial epistemology that legitimized colonial/postcolonial exploitation of labor.
Other chapters grapple with issues related to African slavery and the enslaved in the Americas. In “Household Challenges: The Laws of Slaveholding and the Practices of Freedom in Colonial Peru,” O’Toole explores opportunities for legal agency that slaves of African descent in northern Peru used to detach themselves from the Spanish household and the domestic realm to which they were legally constrained. Meanwhile, María Eugenia Chaves's chapter, “The Reason of Freedom and the Freedom of Reason: The Neo-Scholastic Critique of African Slavery and Its Impact on the Construction of the Nineteenth-Century Republic in Spanish America,” discusses two examples of political philosophy—one from the baroque period and one from the Age of Revolutions—on the conflicting relationship between African slavery and the concept of freedom in Nueva Granada. In addition, in a posthumously published chapter (“Religion, Caste, and Race in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires: Local and Global Dimensions”), María Elena Martínez presents a more comprehensive reading on the topic of race and early modern globalization, analyzing how notions of race evolved within an interconnected web of institutionally produced knowledge.
Other authors analyze the global reach of early modern Iberian institutions through their imperial networks. This is the case for Bruno Feitler (“The Portuguese Inquisition and Colonial Expansion: The ‘Honor’ of Being Tried by the Holy Office”) who sheds light on how the Portuguese Inquisition had to adjust its methods of policing religiosity—originally conceived to fight heresy in the European context—to respond to the Asian, African, and American societies that became subjected under Portuguese imperial control. Also, Guillermo Wilde (“Jesuits and Indigenous Subjects in the Global Culture of Letters: Production, Circulation, and Adaptation of Missionary Texts in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries”) focuses on the Jesuit Province of Paraguay to discuss how this religious order managed to reaffirm its theological principles along with the practical demands of its operations in situ, which were ultimately negotiated and mediated by indigenous agency.
Iberian Empires and the Roots of Globalization also exemplifies how the “global turn” and the concept of “connected histories” serve as tools to highlight mutual influences and alternative circuits of knowledge production and dissemination, which ideally undermine and supplant the dominance of the European-centered, top-down, center-periphery study of the early modern world. The last three chapters illustrate how the “global” as an analytical dimension brings about the intricacies of the emerging cultures of this newly connected world. For example, in “The Iridescent Enconchado,” Charlene Villaseñor Black studies the artistic technique of the enconchado (mother-of-pearl inlays), typical of seventeenth-century New Spain, and the multiple sources of influence behind the aesthetics of its shiny surface—textile innovations, the science of optics, literature, other cultural uses of seashells. Meanwhile, Elisabetta Corsi’s “‘Idolatrous Images’ and ‘True Images’: European Visual Culture and Its Circulation in Early Modern China” explores the Jesuits’ flexible politics on the dissemination of Christian images in China. Finally, Jody Blanco’s “Barlaam and Josaphat in Early Modern Spain and the Colonial Philippines: Spiritual Exercises of Freedom at the Center and Periphery” explores the divergent appropriations of a biblical tale and its intertextuality with the story of Buddha in Calderón de la Barca’s La vida es sueño (1635) and in the Jesuit Fray Antonio de Borja’s Tagalog translation of this tale (1712).
In sum, Iberian Empires and the Roots of Globalization is a relevant contribution to the current conversation on the role of Spanish and Portuguese imperial projects at the time of the emergence of capitalism and a globalized world. It shows how creating a dialogue between the local and the global allows for a more nuanced and rich analysis of the complexities of early modern globalization. Also, as an interdisciplinary work, Iberian Empires illustrates how difficult, yet necessary, it is to bridge questions that typically concern historians (the economic, social, and political structures that led the European expansion and its models of exploitation of their conquered territories in America, Asia, and Africa), with issues of representation, spirituality, and legitimacy-building that more often have been the subject of cultural and literary critics.
This volume—or a selection of some of its contributions—can be a suggestive reading in a graduate course offered by Spanish and Portuguese as well as history departments, especially for a syllabus structured around theoretical and methodological debates on the early modern world and globalization, European expansion, connected histories, and the transatlantic/transoceanic world.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-atlantic.
María Victoria Marquez. Review of Valle, Ivonne del; More, Anna; O'Toole, Rachel Sarah, eds., Iberian Empires and the Roots of Globalization.
H-Atlantic, H-Net Reviews.
|This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.|