Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Remaking the hinterland: Commoners, colonialism, and social order in post-conquest Texcoco and Teotihuacán, Mexico
by Johnson, Benjamin Daniel, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2011, 276; 3487626
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation offers a new vision of social and political change after the Spanish conquest of central Mexico. Basing my analysis in the divergent but broadly coherent histories of the poor majorities of central Mexico, I show the ways in which these ignored individuals and groups transformed traditional native institutions and also Spanish colonial administration, creating a durable and robust social order that outflanked both initial formulations. Prevailing explanations of colonial Mexico tend to give precedence to either imported colonial forms or local native continuities, but neither of these stands up to detailed scrutiny. When Spanish colonialism is compared against itself over generations, debilitating ruptures and weaknesses emerge. The same is true for traditional native forms in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest.

What happened instead was a disjointed process of reconstruction. The Spanish conquest opened large social and political holes that neither native institutions, like the hierarchical altepetl; nor Spanish ones, like colonial town government, were able to fill. Rather, these gaps were bridged by the uneven but composite efforts of poor central Mexicans to survive in a transformed landscape; efforts that included forming large and diverse associative families, establishing self-reinforcing circuits of trade and migration, defining economic activity along informal patterns of labor and exchange, seeking refuge in sites of public sociability, and taking vigorous recourse to the practice of local politics. It was these ignored individuals and groups—people this dissertation calls commoners—who refounded central Mexican society and originated many processes that make the region noteworthy even today.

These arrangements eventually came to constitute a distinct but inseparable commoner social order, a powerful underbelly to official colonialism that not only manifested itself in the major riots of the mature colonial period, but also in the functioning of every Hispanic institution on the local level. New Spain became ungovernable for seven consecutive viceroys; tribute collectors took hostages to meet their quotas; elites had to arm themselves to a level not seen since the conquest; informal arrangements forced the abandonment of rotational labor drafts centuries before anywhere else in Spanish America; and the black and gray markets drew both patrons and goods from taxable sources, among many other developments. This was more than administrative difficulty—the very practice of colonial rule changed—but chaos did not reign in totality. Colonialism became locally-oriented and decentralized, following disruptive commoner leads from a rear-guard defensive position, and ceding many other areas (such as family mores and public morality) to locally-defined commoner processes. All of this meant that, despite ongoing poverty and patent inequality, commoners wrested causality from both colonial rule and native tradition, and in so doing created something entirely new.

I make my case through specific recourse to the archives of Texcoco and Teotihuacán, representative areas of the most important hinterland of Mexico City. If central administration was unable to impose order over even its immediate neighbors, it stands to reason that processes would be even more fraught farther from the capital. Much of my research is based on Nahuatl language documentation, but I also use a full array of sources to make my case. Chapter One of this dissertation shows the patent weakness of traditional native institutions after the Spanish conquest, and Chapter Two does the same for Spanish ones. Chapter Three shows how commoners began to individually fill social and political gaps, first in irregular and disjointed ways, and Chapter Four shows how these separate nodes of commoner sociability created larger arrays of coherence. Chapter Five concludes by showing the pervasive influence of commoner forms over the functioning of Spanish institutions. I end with a brief epilogue illustrating the ongoing power of these processes on into the eighteenth century and beyond.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kouri, Emilio H.
Commitee: Borges, Dain E., Terraciano, Kevin B.
School: The University of Chicago
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 73/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Latin American history
Keywords: Colonialism, Mexico, Nahuatl, New Spain, Teotihuacan, Texcoco
Publication Number: 3487626
ISBN: 9781267071378
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