Please note that this module
was taught until 2010 but has now been
withdrawn and is no longer available.
Tutor: Professor Anthony McFarlane
This undergraduate final-year Advanced Option module explores the history of the Spanish Empire at a time of international war and revolution in the 'Atlantic World' of the European powers and their American colonies. Its specific goals are to examine the development of the Spanish empire after c.1750, and to explain why it collapsed and was replaced by independent states in the period 1810-1824. At a broader level, it provides an opportunity to examine the reasons for the decline of empires, seen through the fall of one of the great European empires of the West.
The first part of the module concentrates on the imperial reforms undertaken by the Bourbon monarchy in the later eighteenth century and their implications for the development of the Spanish American colonies. Here, the principal purpose is to explore the development of Spain's empire at a time of intense international conflict in the Atlantic world, and to show how such conflict affected political and cultural relations within the Hispanic world of Spain and its colonies. The key goal is to understand the development of Hispanic political culture under Spanish rule; the key question is whether Spanish America was incubating ideas of revolution and secession. We focus on the following themes: Bourbon efforts to 'modernise' the Spanish monarchy; the great rebellions of the late colonial period; the influence of the Enlightenment on Spanish American culture; the repercussions of the American and French Revolutions in Hispanic politics; ideas of 'Creole patriotism' and their relation to 'nationalism'.
The second section of the module focuses on politics and society in the period 1808-1826, and enquires into the origins, nature and outcomes of the movements towards independence in Spanish America. Here, we examine competing interpretations of Spanish American independence by focusing on the following questions: Why and how did the empire enter into crisis? Why did Spanish power break down and how did colonial wars originate? Were these civil wars or wars for independence? To what extent did wars incorporate social revolutions, expressing conflicts of race and class? How and why did political turmoil vary between regions? Did Spain lose its colonies because of colonial revolt or because of the failings of Spanish policy? Why were republics established in place of Spanish colonial governments? What were the strengths and weaknesses of the new republics? These questions also raise broader issues concerning the cultural heritage of colonialism, the social and political effects of war, and the difficulties of building political order in new states.