Colonial Latin America: The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire

The Spanish crown had an empire that lasted from the 1500s to 1898, much of it in America. Kings from Spain claimed that they ruled territory stretching from present-day California to Chile. Yet, Spaniards did not colonize all lands; Native American nations remained in power in some regions and other European monarchs established colonial footholds as well. So, what makes an empire? How are they built? Why do they stand? And why do they fall apart? We will answer these questions by studying the Spanish Empire from the perspective of people who were part of it: Native Americans, migrants from Europe, enslaved people trafficked from Africa and Asia, and all their descendants.

To do so, we will primarily work with primary sources (government documents, legal treaties, travel narratives, works of art, and other artifacts). We will also read scholarly works and articles by journalists based on data, as well as listen to podcasts and watch films and videos.  Learning about this vast region helps us understand colonialism and the work of empire on the ground.

Empires have legacies. People in twenty countries in Latin America (and 14% of the US population) speak Spanish because language is a tool of empire and a basis for national identity. We study the Spanish Empire to make this type of connection to the present.