Landscapes of Power and Identity

Comparative Histories in the Sonoran Desert and the Forests of Amazonia from Colony to Republic

Landscapes of Power and Identity

Book Pages: 456 Illustrations: 28 b&w photos Published: January 2006

Author: Cynthia Radding

Environmental Studies, Geography, Latin American Studies

Landscapes of Power and Identity is a groundbreaking comparative history of two colonies on the frontiers of the Spanish empire—the Sonora region of northwestern Mexico and the Chiquitos region of eastern Bolivia’s lowlands—from the late colonial period through the middle of the nineteenth century. An innovative combination of environmental and cultural history, this book reflects Cynthia Radding’s more than two decades of research on Mexico and Bolivia and her consideration of the relationships between human societies and the geographic landscapes they inhabit and create. At first glance, Sonora and Chiquitos are quite different: one a scrub-covered desert, the other a tropical rainforest of the greater Amazonian and Paraguayan river basins. Yet the regions are similar in many ways. Both were located far from the centers of colonial authority, organized into Jesuit missions and linked to the principal mining centers of New Spain and the Andes, and then absorbed into nation-states in the nineteenth century. In each area, the indigenous communities encountered European governors, missionaries, slave hunters, merchants, miners, and ranchers.

Radding’s comparative approach illuminates what happened when similar institutions of imperial governance, commerce, and religion were planted in different physical and cultural environments. She draws on archival documents, published reports by missionaries and travelers, and previous histories as well as ecological studies and ethnographies. She also considers cultural artifacts, including archaeological remains, architecture, liturgical music, and religious dances. Radding demonstrates how colonial encounters were conditioned by both the local landscape and cultural expectations; how the colonizers and colonized understood notions of territory and property; how religion formed the cultural practices and historical memories of the Sonoran and Chiquitano peoples; and how the conflict between the indigenous communities and the surrounding creole societies developed in new directions well into the nineteenth century.


Landscapes of Power and Identity is an important study which has appeared at a moment of increasing interest in the relationship between geography, empire, and narrative. . . . [E]ssential reading for anyone interested in Spanish American literary geography.” — Lesley Wylie, The Latin Americanist

“[Landscapes of Power and Identity] contains thorough introductory and concluding chapters, and seven thematic chapters that make use of a range of primary materials, secondary studies, and lengthy field-informed refection. The book is well-written and free of jargon.” — Karl H. Offen, Journal of Historical Geography

“[A] deeply original work of historical scholarship that opens multiple pathways of analysis into indigenous societies, colonialism, and the environment in Latin America. . . . It deserves wide readership among ethnohistorians, environmental historians, and scholars interested in state-of-the-art comparative history.” — Christopher R. Boyer, A Contracorriente

“Careful research and inspired interpretation. . . . The comparative analysis is certainly novel and welcome. . . .” — Christian Brannstrom, Journal of Latin American Studies

“Carefully researched and clearly written, Landscapes of Power and Identity provides an illuminating comparison of the environmental history of Spanish colonialism. . . . Landscapes of Power and Identity will be an illuminating read for specialists in a variety of fields including environmental history, borderlands history, and Spanish colonial history and a model for all those scholars interested in pursuing comparative history.” — Rachel St. John, Western Historical Quarterly

“Cynthia Radding delivers an exemplary study of the transformations from late precolonial to early (post)colonial times, approximately the 16th through the mid–19th centuries, of the landscapes of two places: the state of Sonora in northwestern Mexico and the Chiquitos region of the department of Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia.” — Andrew Sluyter, American Anthropologist

“For me, Radding’s most important contribution—perhaps because it is so timely—is her thoughtful commentary on the nature of boundaries. . . . Radding demonstrates that a frontier is never an absolute demarcation, an observation that current policymakers seem determined to ignore.” — David Block, Hispanic American Historical Review

“In many ways, this is a seminal work that provides direction for further studies that explore frontier cultures in Latin America and interpret their layered cultural landscapes and overlapping histories of conquest, transition, and renewal. This study is highly recommended to both students and researchers seeking new perspectives on history and culture.” — Colonial Latin American Historical Review

“Perhaps the most innovative contribution of Landscapes of Power and Identity is its careful attention to the contribution of spiritual, political, and economic landscapes. . . . [It] takes space and time seriously and represents a major contribution to the comparative history of Spanish colonial frontiers in the Americas.” — Thomas E. Sheridan, New Mexico Historical Review

“The author’s meticulous attention to social dynamics offers an excellent starting point to understand how power discrepancies historically shaped both landscape changes over time and people’s interactions with their environments.” — María Elena Díaz, Latin American Research Review

“The book makes important contributions to several bodies of literature. It is a superb example of how to incorporate the natural world into more traditional historical themes . . . . For international historians, it provides a valuable comparative study of colonial borderlands both within Latin America and beyond.” — Stuart McCook, International History Review

“Thoroughly researched and impressively documented, Landscapes of Power and Identity gives an innovative and fresh look at the history of the Spanish colonial enterprise in the Americas.” — Lúcia Sá, Journal of Peasant Studies

“There has been much talk about comparative history but precious little of it in the Spanish colonial period. Cynthia Radding has led the way.” — David J. Weber, Director of the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University

“This is a beautifully written comparative frontier history that balances in-depth historical analysis of two relatively unexplored regions on the edge of the Spanish empire against broader insights into the active role that ecologies played in shaping the contours of European-indigenous encounters and processes of colonization over long periods of time. With this book, Cynthia Radding takes the ‘new environmental history’ of conquest and colonization to a new level.” — Brooke Larson, author of Trials of Nation Making: Liberalism, Race, and Ethnicity in the Andes, 1810-1910


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Cynthia Radding is Professor of History and Director of the Latin American and Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of Wandering Peoples: Colonialism, Ethnic Spaces, and Ecological Frontiers in Northwestern Mexico, 1700–1850, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Abbreviations xiii

Preface xv

Acknowledgments xxi

Introduction. Savannas and Deserts: Two Histories of Cultural Landscapes 1

1. Ecological and Cultural Frontiers in Sonora and Chiquitos 19

2. Political Economy: Communities, Missions, and Colonial Markets 55

3. Territory: Community and Conflicting Claims to Property 89

4. Ethnic Mosaics and Gendered Identities 117

5. Power Negotiated, Power Defied: Politial Culture, Governance, and
Mobilization 162

6. Priests and Shamans: Spiritual Power, Ritual, and Knowledge 196

7. Postcolonial Landscapes: Transitions from Colony to Republic 240

8. Contested Landscapes in Continental Borderlands 295

Notes 327

Glossary 375

Bibliography 385

Index 423
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3689-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3652-5
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