Bourbon Spain in Global Context: Reform in the Age of Enlightenment, 1700–1808

AHA Session 216
Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies 3
Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Columbia Hall 2 (Washington Hilton)
Valentina K. Tikoff, DePaul University
Valentina K. Tikoff, DePaul University

Session Abstract

Historians have alternately reinforced and challenged the so-called “Black Legend” that depicts Spain as isolated and anachronistic. This panel reconsiders the narrative of Spanish “backwardness” in the age of enlightenment through analysis of several instances of reform and global interaction that demonstrate how the example of Spain challenges Franco- and Anglo-centric narratives of the long eighteenth century. As these papers reveal, Bourbon Spain was both shaping the world and responding to global trends in creative and unique ways. When considered together, these papers will facilitate a conversation on the meaning of reform and enlightenment, as well as broad reflection on the challenge and benefits of integrating under-represented countries into the grand narratives of European and world history.

Scholars of Latin America tend to associate Bourbon colonial reforms with the late eighteenth century, often ignoring earlier administrative changes. In “Imperialism, Private Interests, and the Reform of the Council of the Indies during the War of the Spanish Succession,” Aaron Alejandro Olivas challenges this perspective by analyzing the multifaceted conflicts that motivated one of Philip V’s reforms to Spanish American administration in 1714: the dramatic reduction of the powers of the Council of the Indies, which traditionally oversaw the empire. This paper sheds light on the place of Spanish America and global imperialism in eighteenth-century European geopolitics.

The Spanish state is often described as backward, only appearing following the Bourbon’s arrival in 1700 and suffering from their failure to establish a modern and efficient royal bureaucracy.  In “The Perpetually Fragmented Monarchy: Negotiation and Social Collaboration in Bourbon Spain,” Phillip Fox presents a reassessment of the early Bourbon reforms in the Crown of Aragon that reflects the surprisingly fragmentary nature of their Iberian rule. This paper describes how Bourbon governing practices created a complex patchwork system of government that ultimately undercut uniformity and indicates the significance of these findings for the narrative of Spanish and European history in the eighteenth century.

Europeans seeking models for the rational reorganization of society often turned to China as a model for their own reforming efforts, as has been well-documented among the French and English. In “China and the Spanish Enlightenment: The Celestial Empire in Spanish Periodicals, 1758-1808,” Nicholas Russell argues that the Spanish also looked to China as a model of political, economic, and social organization. But the debates about how to reform Spain along Chinese lines reveal a surprisingly widespread concern for the protection of critical Spanish traditions. Indeed, the Spanish case, which is considered marginal in most accounts, entailed a radically different set of premises and conclusions about China, which created a unique trajectory for Spain as the nineteenth century began.

Together these papers reconsider the traditional narrative of Spanish history and its role in both the European and global context. Through the large questions raised by these papers about the place of Spain in common historical narratives, this panel will facilitate discussion of the role of narratives in driving historical research and writing, in keeping with the conference theme.

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