When Duke University Press's editor, Valerie Millholland, called me
in Vermont one sparkling August morning to offer me a contract for
the republication of Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation in
Bolivia: Cochabamba, 1550-1900 (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1988), I was deeply immersed in another project and had not
thought about late colonial Cochabamba for several years. I had no
intention of doing more research on the region, and initially I decided
that I would simply make a case in the preface for the book's perti-
nence to ongoing historiographical discussions about the formation
of particular agrarian societies under colonial rule. I had certainly
sampled enough prefaces of recently republished books to appreci-
ate the various ways that authors gracefully extolled the relevance of
their own studies to a new generation of readers.
But as I began to reread the book, I soon grew skeptical about pitch-
ing the preface in such a way. The book's narrative and explanatory
structure, and its muted theoretical preoccupations seemed incom-
plete. The recent epistemological lurch toward things postmodern,
cultural, and literary, the collapse of class as an interpretive category,
and the wholesale retreat from political-economic and structural
analysis in much of the new historiography of the 1990s seemed to
belie the ten short years that separated the two editions of this book.
But as I began to focus more deeply on the content of the book's
interpretive arguments and evidence, Cochabamba-the case study
and its broader significance-once more caught me in its clutches.
Among other connected narratives, the book chronicles the forma-
tion of a distinctive mestizo, mercantile peasantry in nested fields
of power-from local village society, to the regional political econ-
omy, and finally to the shifting imperial stage. The book's themes
and approaches lend themselves quite naturally to political and cul-
tural issues, and I began
bring new questions and assumptions
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