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Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment

David J. Weber

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Two centuries after Cortés and Pizarro seized the Aztec and Inca empires, Spain’s conquest of America remained unfinished. Indians retained control over most of the lands in Spain’s American empire. Mounted on horseback, savvy about European ways, and often possessing firearms, independent Indians continued to find new ways to resist subjugation by Spanish soldiers and conversion by Spanish missionaries.

In this panoramic study, David J. Weber explains how late eighteenthcentury Spanish administrators tried to fashion a more enlightened policy toward the people they called bárbaros, or “savages.” Even Spain’s most powerful monarchs failed, however, to enforce a consistent, well-reasoned policy toward Indians. At one extreme, powerful independent Indians forced Spaniards to seek peace, acknowledge autonomous tribal governments, and recognize the existence of tribal lands, fulfilling the Crown’s oft-stated wish to use “gentle” means in dealing with Indians. At the other extreme the Crown abandoned its principles, authorizing bloody wars on Indians when Spanish officers believed they could defeat them. Power, says Weber, more than the power of ideas, determined how Spaniards treated “savages” in the Age of Enlightenment.

DAVID J. WEBER is Dedman Professor of History and director of the William P. Clements Center for Southwestern Studies at Southern Methodist University. He is the author or editor of more than sixty scholarly articles and twenty-two books.

A selection of the History Book Club 

"This is a pathbreaking, tightly organized, surefooted book. At last we have something solid and comparative in the field of colonial Latin American frontiers, and unincorporated Indians can never again be dismissed as unimportant to the story of Spain in America. The book is a pure delight."—Amy Turner Bushnell, The John Carter Brown Library

“A masterful synthesis that will serve as a necessary point of departure for historians working in different areas of frontier or borderlands history for many years to come.”—Cynthia Radding, Director, Latin American and Iberian Institute, University of New Mexico

"A stunning book that will be read for generations and lauded for its awesome research, judicious analysis, and graceful prose."—James Schofield Saeger, Lehigh University

“A lucidly written landmark study, packed with insight, patterns, regional and temporal specificity, and memorable voices. A key to much about Latin American history. Everyone who wants to write about the colonial period must reckon with this book.”—William B. Taylor, University of California, Berkeley

“David J. Weber, an eminent scholar of Spanish American History, has written a magisterial study of Spain’s relations with [the] Bárbaros. . . . Built upon the archival research of schools, and documented meticulously regarding Spanish perspectives, Weber’s book is a masterful work by a master craftsman.”—Christopher Vecsey, H-Net Reviews


“[An] important new book. . . . Bárbaros . . . displays the same qualities in the author as its predecessor (The Spanish Frontier in North America); a mastery of the literature and impressive erudition; a capacity for the patient teasing out of the truth from sources that are often incomplete and partisan; and a lucid narrative style that carries the reader along. . . . . To have subsumed so much information into so clear and comprehensive a survey is a formidable achievement. It is a particularly valuable achievement.”—J.H. Elliott, New York Review of Books

"Overall, this is an impressive, important, and pleasurable book to read."—Jim Norris, American Historical Review

"This is an important and well-written comparative study of an important period in Spanish colonial history in the Americas that effectively documents the wide range of native-Spanish interactions on the frontiers. This book will be the point of departure for future studies by the next generation."—Robert H. Jackson, Journal of American Ethnic History

"Remarkably detailed and engaging."—Bruce Buchan, Australian Review of Public Affairs

"It is a rich comparative study of many peoples whose lives, cultures, histories and futures were intertwined in a multitude of complicated ways. . . . All students of Indian history in the American West should read Bárbaros because it places regional eighteenth-century developments in context like no other book. Deeply researched, cogently argued, and gracefully written, Weber's book brings together a wealth of secondary work and primary sources from all over the western hemisphere. It is a monument to scholarship."—Albert L. Hurtado, Western Historical Quarterly

"A monumental tour de force that moves with the speed of an express train. Readers can jump on board confident that Bárbaros represents the best of contemporary scholarship from two continents, in two languages, judiciously assimilated and evaluated by a synthesizer at the top of his game."—Thomas E. Sheridan, Hispanic American Historical Review

"A work of fine scholarship, showing a deep appreciation of the historical processes and trajectories that shaped interactions between vecinos and indios in Spain's American territories. . . . Weber provides a clear and engaging overview of the ways in which Spanish political, evangelical, and economic policies created for native peoples a common landscape of engagement with the colonial powers. . . . [A] valuable resource."—Neil Whitehead, New West Indian Guide

"A most comprehensive and substantive understanding of the late Bourbon empire in the Americas in its handling of diverse precolonized peoples. With the most scrupulous, balanced judgment and the most exhaustive research, Weber has produced a book that defies the usual cliché of being magisterial but proves to be rather a pivot, pilot, and pioneer in the immediate field of the Spanish colonial empire and a compass for the broader historiographical subject of the borderlands in the context of history's empires and of other political constructs. . . . Tense, dense, substantive, the book provides a richer, more comprehensive context than hitherto available and illuminates a number of significant processes. It marks a considerable accomplishment."—John M. Headley, Church History

"This is an impressive comparative study. . . . This book is solidly grounded on a wealth of archival evidence and a thorough knowledge of the secondary literature. . . . Beautifully illustrated and gracefully written, [this] wealth of information on Spanish-Indian relations will prove to be a significant departure point for historians for many years to come." —Barbara Ganson, The Americas

“Noted historian Weber has written an exceptional synthetic volume on Spanish relations with birbaros, or ‘savages,’ as Spaniards termed unconquered Indians, on the numerous frontiers of Spain’s colonies from Mexico to Chile. . . . Numerous apt brief quotations from contemporary officials and ‘savage’ Indians complement the author’s very readable prose. Based upon extensive printed primary materials and secondary sources in addition to archival research, Weber’s outstanding volume belongs in every academic and public library.”—Choice

"...[Weber's] mastery of both the primary and secondary sources and the more recent secondary literature makes this a fine study...' - Christopher Storrs, History: Journal of the Historical Association

Selected for Association of American University Presses (AAUP) Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries, 2006

Selected as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2006 by Choice Magazine

Won the 2006 John E. Fagg Prize given by the American Historical Association
ISBN: 9780300119916
Publication Date: August 15, 2006
480 pages, 7 x 10
41 b/w illus.
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