Taken collectively the chapters in this volume make a strong statement
about the relevance of identity to the study of the Iberian (mostly Span-
ish) colonial world. They also make a strong case for a particular view of
identity—one that understands the concept as fluid, malleable, yet con-
strained; one that understands identity as being born out of a dynamic
between individuals and the givens of cultural and political life—the
relations of being—through which humans make themselves and suc-
ceeding conditions of experience. That is, they insist on studying identity
in history.
And that history was quite extraordinary, for Spanish colonialism was
coterminous with the initial processes of European state making. The
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, witnessing profound transforma-
tions in political and economic life, spawned nothing less than a cultural
revolution—or, better said, a revolution in the possible ways of being
human. This was a revolution of identities—a revolution of social selves,
of social relations, and of social understandings; this was the cultural
revolution behind the making of the emerging modern world.
One of the emerging modern world’s signature behaviors was to embed
economic and political authority into a radical cultural design. Spanish
political and economic dominion was charted through a novel trio of
human beings—español, indio, and negro (to be expanded as the categories
proved insu≈cient)—each with a publicly conferred configuration of
obligations and possibilities. These categories contributed to the ambience
of political culture through which human beings, in daily living, gave
meaning to themselves and their lives. Taken as a whole, the essays here
explore how structures of colonial rule were transformed into venues of
lived experience, were transformed into identities.
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