New Perspectives on the Enlightenment across the Spanish Atlantic, 1680–1815

AHA Session 136
Friday, January 6, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Room 502 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Andrew J. Mitchell, Grove City College
Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, University of Texas at Austin

Session Abstract

Until recently, the scholarly consensus condemned Spain’s intellectual contributions to the history of the Enlightenment as insignificant and comparatively dull.  Stereotypes abounded of the Spanish empire as one plagued by internal political and economic issues following the Bourbon succession, dominated by a conservative, scholastic orthodoxy which governed the university system, and policed by both the zealous Inquisition and the Index of Prohibited Books.  In the last twenty years, however, the historiography has shifted to uncover a wealth of resources which demonstrate Spain’s unique contributions to the broader enlightenment project.  This panel joins a new generation of intellectual histories of Spain and her colonies during the eighteenth century, seeking to nuance historians’ new perspectives on the enlightenment across the Spanish Atlantic during the long eighteenth century.  By examining the Spanish perspective, this panel raises several key questions about the study of the enlightenment more generally.  For example, what role did notions of progress and utility have in society?  How did the roles of State and Church interact with intellectual development?  How useful is disenchantment theory for understanding the enlightenment project?  How did the enlightenment constitute an epistemological challenge to existing traditions of knowledge?  Was the enlightenment necessarily secularizing?

The papers of this panel are united by their attempts to disentangle the way that various movements within the Spanish Empire across the eighteenth century were manifestations of the broader, European Enlightenment.  Representing both Spain and the viceroyalty of Spain, this panel offers different perspectives on how the activity of Spanish religious and intellectuals contributed to a more general notion of a Spanish, Catholic Enlightenment.  Specifically, these presentations examine the role of the Spanish Enlightenment in state-church relations, the history of epistemology and philosophy of science, and the relationship between science, religion, and secularization.  In so doing, however, they place the Spanish Empire within the larger Atlantic community, offering insight which may be used by a broad array of historians to understand the way that Enlightenment thought was produced, disseminated, challenged, and adapted during the eighteenth century.

By presenting papers focused on Mexico, the Iberian Atlantic, and Spain, ranging from the end of the seventeenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth, this panel expands the historical scale for measuring the enlightenment experience.  In The Atlantic Enlightenment (Ashgate, 2008), Susan Manning and Francis D. Cogliano suggest that the “re-centring of Enlightenment discussion on the Atlantic” help scholars to understand the unique role that particular geographic and cultural contexts had in shaping the history of ideas (2).  This panel offers three different perspectives from the Spanish Atlantic, fragmenting the notion of one, singular “Enlightenment,” and inviting historians to reflect upon the way that enlightenment thought was created and shaped in three different Spanish contexts from the eighteenth century, and how these enlightenments in turn contributed to the development of ideas.  Thus, this panel contributes to the theme of the 131st Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association by exploring new ways of stretching the historical scale of enlightenment studies - geographically, disciplinarily, and temporally.

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