The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition of Mexico City was in between 1569 and 1820. Its task was to regulate the moral life of the society of New Spain and it was authorized to punish offenders. The crimes that were usually persecuted were acts against the Catholic faith (heresy, blasphemy, sorcery, and idolatry) or against accepted morality (indecency, bigamy, sexual harassment, homosexuality, and sedition).
The Court placed limited attention to the sones de la tierra (sounds of the land) from 1766 to 1819. The sones were sung dances that were eventually considered unsuitable and were denounced for various reasons: the lyrics of the songs contained vulgar words or heretical or blasphemous concepts, the steps of dances were indecent, the choreography implied actions that parodied known acts of the Christian liturgy, or by some combination of these factors.
The archive of the Inquisition of Mexico is practically the only source of information on music and street poetry in the cities and towns of the colony.
The sones de la tierra are the origin of the current cultural music genre called son mexicano, the most significant part of the traditional music and poetry of the country.
The sones de la tierra of the Baroque period and the current Mexican sones have three basic elements: music, poetry, and choreography. The music is based on recurrent rhythmic-harmonic patterns (ostinato) on which instrumental or vocal improvisations are made. Each determined pattern generates a son with a specific name. Thus, it is possible to speak of sones typical of the Baroque period (chacona, zarabanda, chuchumbé, and saraguandingo) or in present-day Mexico (bamba, maracumbé, petenera, and oaxacado). Some can be documented both in the 18th century and in the 21st century (matachines, fandango, panaderos, and zacamandú).
The poetry of the sones is based on the active principle of the copla, a poetic form based on the octosyllabic quatrain in various modalities (seguidilla and décima). The current Mexican variants are directly related to the Spanish poetry of the Golden Age.
The dance of the sones is performed mainly in couples who dance without having physical contact, using different steps whose main characteristic is the zapateado.
The archive of the Inquisition of Mexico mentions some sixty sones. The complaints and interrogations of the Court provide information about the sung lyrics, the ways of dancing, the people who practiced them, their geographical distribution, and some social attitudes regarding their use. This information shows that the sones de la tierra were common throughout the territory of New Spain and were practiced by people of almost all social classes.
The study of the sones de la tierra allows us to understand the existence and behavior of the different variants of the Mexican sones of today, which represent one of the fundamental elements of Mexican culture.
European empires would have not existed absent private enterprise both licit and illicit. Private traders, in the first instance, sustained colonies by conveying the labor and merchandise that planters required in exchange for the exports that colonies produced. Moreover, those colonies would not have existed in the first place absent private initiatives since European states in the 16th and 17th centuries customarily lacked the administrative and fiscal resources and often the inclination to oversee such projects. Individual or corporate adventurers, though, did possess such resources and inclination; legitimate operators secured government authority for their activities pursuant to charters that drew upon medieval forms and granted extraordinary powers to their recipients. Under the terms of these documents, grantees pursued public purposes—as they would be called today—that their activities entailed in conjunction with their pursuit of profit. The results of this practice included the establishment of colonies that spanned the Atlantic basin from the Madeira Islands to Newfoundland to Brazil; the emergence of colonial leaderships who pursued their own agendas while they ingratiated themselves into trans-Atlantic political cultures; and incessant conflict over territorial and commercial agendas that involved indigenous people as well as Europeans. Other operators did not bother with legitimacy as they pursued smuggling, piracy, and colonizing ventures that also contributed profoundly to imperial expansion. The domestic and international friction generated by these activities ultimately brought increased state involvement in overseas affairs and increased state ability to direct those affairs.
Mexico had an exceptionally diverse population during the 16th and 17th centuries, including Indigenous peoples of different ethnicities (in the majority), Iberians, and forced migrants from Africa and Asia, who related to one another in complex ways. Society—a group of people living in a community—was configured differently in each place, based on geographical location, local customs, property distribution, and a myriad of other factors. Faced with such different contexts, historians have tended to generalize about social organization (the way people interacted) from the perspective of the men who produced the most sources. Colonial statutes and official correspondence convey the attempts of Hapsburg officials to maintain a hierarchical social order, but property records reveal a more fluid reality. The acquisition of wealth and achievement of social status by non-Spaniards frustrated colonial ideals for a stratified society that correlated to ethnicity. The success of imperial governance, to the degree it was achieved, depended on its flexibility and how it allowed people to benefit from the colonial economy and to achieve social mobility.
The Scandinavian countries established overseas settlements in Africa and the Americas, starting in the 17th century. In Africa, trading stations were initially established with the consent of local rulers. The Danish trading stations on the Gold Coast developed in time into a more formal colony. In the Americas, Scandinavian settlements were of various natures, including the short-lived settlement colony of New Sweden and slavery-based plantation societies in the Caribbean. The Caribbean colonies would bear resemblance to many other Caribbean plantation economies of the time. The Scandinavian countries also participated in the transatlantic slave trade: while these countries might have been responsible for a quite small share of the total transatlantic slave trade, the trade was large compared to the size of the domestic population in these countries. The formal abolition of the slave trade, and later of slavery, in the Scandinavian colonies made the colonial possessions unimportant or even burdens for the Scandinavian states, so that the colonies eventually were sold to other European nations.
The very nature of Spanish colonization meant that New Spain brought together people from different cultures, ethnicities, religions, and attitudes. Mexico City was the meeting place of all these various populaces. Before the conquest, Tenochtitlan had neighborhoods composed of residents from various parts of the empire. Apart from the many indigenous cultures, colonization also meant the addition of Spaniards, Africans, and Asians, some of whom were enslaved and others simply migrants. The result was a culture that expressed itself both in high and popular culture with a melding of elements—a joyous cacophony that reflected its mestizo nature. This culture was played out not only in institutional settings such as the viceregal court, ceremonies, the theater, and in church but also in the streets, parks, and taverns that dotted towns and cities. Although culture, to a certain extent, reflected New Spain’s hierarchical nature, separation between high and low was never absolute. In the cathedral, as in many other institutions, popular pursuits and music infiltrated the formal singing. This pattern of cultural slippage prevailed within many areas of daily life as the colonial world of New Spain layered pastimes and pursuits from its many constituents.
The role that liberals and liberalism played from the beginning of the crisis hispánica of 1808 until the death of Simón Bolívar in 1830 can be separated for analytical purposes in two different strands: the Peninsular and the Spanish American. This is a distinction that should be adopted with care, because in the end it can be considered that we are dealing with a single liberalism, the liberalismo hispánico. However, different historical, political, and social realities on each side of the Atlantic gave this liberalism different connotations. At first, Peninsulars and Spanish Americans worked in the same direction and with the same objective (the rejection of the French king that Napoleon imposed in the throne of Spain), but soon they parted ways in a practical, though not necessarily in a theoretical sense, at least concerning liberalism. In any case, contrary to what Western historiography has repeated for a long time, liberalism was a major player in the mundo hispánico during the Age of Revolutions. In fact, the term “liberal” used to define a political group made its first appearance in the Cortes (parliament or congress) that gathered in the Spanish port of Cádiz from 1810 to 1814. Nevertheless, the revolutionary contents of liberalism had to confront sociopolitical histories and realities that forced it to adapt itself to the prevailing social circumstances and to make concessions to other currents of thought and practices that do not coincide with the “liberal model” that still has ascendancy in Western historiography. This model tends to ignore the historical liberalisms that have existed in Europe, America, and other parts of the world since the “liberals” made their appearance in Spain more than two hundred years ago and in the Hispanic case in particular fails to address its radical character when considered against the Spanish Ancien régime. The result in the case of the mundo hispánico was an original and revolutionary doctrine that during the second and third decades of the 19th century transformed Hispanic politics on both sides of the Atlantic. The fact that these transformations were not consolidated or in the Peninsular case did not last for long does not diminish their importance for political and intellectual history.
The Spaniards had little idea of what to expect when they set foot in North America. Mexico, as the region is known today, was in the 16th century a vast territory with a grand history. Inhabited by diverse peoples for millennia, great civilizations had risen and then fallen, only to be supplanted by others.
The term “Mesoamerican” aptly describes the majority of peoples who lived in or near Mexico, for they shared many culture traits that depended not only on local resources but also on their ingenuity in exploiting all that was available. Food, technology, ball courts, monumental architecture, calendars, and record keeping are practices that characterize Mesoamerica. And in most instances, trade, whether local or long distance or by foot or canoe, served to join different groups across the land through an exchange of commodities, ideas, and the people themselves. Best known, and it might be said the first among many, are the Maya and the Aztecs.
When the anthropologist Paul Kirchhoff proposed a new definition of Mesoamerica in a landmark study from 1943, the first common characteristics he identified were technological and agricultural: the use of the digging-stick (coa) and “the construction of gardens by reclaiming land from lakes (chinampas).” For thousands of years, Native peoples across Mesoamerica drew on their technological innovations to devise bountiful kinds of farming that have been as diverse as the environments in which they were created. All of their farming systems required some degree of intervention in nature, be it through domesticating plants, tilling the soil, or altering the physical environment by making terraces and harnessing water supplies. On an essential level, then, technology and agriculture went hand in hand. Of the many kinds of Mesoamerican farming, the one that arguably modified the environment the most was a distinctive kind of wetland agriculture in which Nahuas—or Aztecs, the speakers of the Nahuatl language—constructed raised garden beds, known as chinampas, in the shallow, freshwater lakes of the Basin of Mexico.
At the heart of this zone of wetland agriculture was the ancient city of Xochimilco. There the raised gardens filled the surrounding lake of the same name, and eventually came to cover a vast area of some 120 square kilometers. The construction and the intensive cultivation of the chinampas required a considerable investment of time and effort, a good deal of technical expertise, and the mastery of specialist skills and knowledge, including hydrology and engineering so as to manage water levels in the lakes through complex irrigation works. The intensive farming of the fertile, well-irrigated gardens, which could be cultivated year round, yielded sizable harvests of maize and other crops. So productive was chinampa agriculture that scholars have considered it one of the most abundant kinds of farming ever devised. As a technological innovation and environmental adaptation, the chinampas were crucial to changes in Mexican history: they generated surpluses sufficient for urbanization and the rise of Tenochtitlan, one of the early modern world’s great cities, as well as the expansion of the Aztec Empire. The chinampas remained important for the provisioning of the capital long after the Spanish conquest, and in spite of the desiccation of the Basin of Mexico, they are still cultivated in a few places today.
For three centuries New Spain was one of the great jewels of Spain’s colonial empire, producing wealth for immigrants and the Crown. The brunt of the labor was performed by indigenous Mexicans, often under duress, but natives also succeeded in seizing opportunities to promote their interests. It is tempting to portray the economic history of Mexico as a simple story of domination of colonial subjects by their European rulers, and indeed historians have often resorted to this straightforward rendition. This article, while certainly presenting the conventional wisdom, presents a more complex story, highlighting debates among historians on a wide range of issues, from the experiences of indigenous people to the profitability of colonialism. What follows is a general presentation of New Spain’s economy.
James A. Garza
The history of foreign travel to Mexico has been dependent on the country’s political, economic, and social conditions. Travel restrictions, banditry, the condition of transportation routes and ports, political stability, revolution, and the development of a tourist industry have all played a role in how travelers have written about Mexico. Despite periodic challenges, Mexico has proven to be an alluring destination for foreign travelers since the colonial era. Men and women have journeyed to Mexico for different reasons, some on official business and others for pleasure or to escape their lives back home, and in turn have produced numerous accounts that have served to attract more visitors and have functioned as a valuable source of information on the everyday life of Mexico’s peoples. Still others have traveled to Mexico for conquest, and while their motivations were violent, their journals have served as a guide for those interested in retracing the same routes. Travelers have depicted landscapes, communities, peoples, and practices; offered insight into important historic periods; and depicted Mexico as exotic, bountiful, primitive, or dangerous.
This historical topic is divided into three distinct eras: the colonial period, the 19th century, and the 20th century. The Spanish Crown restricted foreign travel to Mexico during the colonial era (1521–1821), resulting in the relative scarcity of accounts from the period. Foreign travelers during this period were conquistadors, clerics, officials, or explorers, all with varying degrees of literacy. During the 19th century, foreign travelers came in three overlapping waves: the early republic era (1821–1840), when most were either investors or diplomats; the middle period (1830–1870), an era dominated by soldiers, travelers, and archeologists; and the Porfiriato (1876–1911), when investors and wealthy tourists flooded Mexico. The 1910 Mexican Revolution marks the beginning of Mexico’s 20th century and two distinct periods of foreign travel, both influenced by state power and violence. The revolutionary and state-building era (1910–1946) saw foreign travelers as primarily war journalists and writers exploring the effects of the revolution’s social and cultural measures. After World War II, foreign travelers encountered the tourism era (1946–1968), a period under the influence of a burgeoning state tourism industry. Despite this challenge, travelers, many of them writers, carved out their own niches.