Frontiers of Possession: Spain and Portugal in Europe and the Americas

Tamar Herzog. Harvard Univ, $35 (384p) ISBN 978-0-674-73538-5
In this monograph, extensively researched in numerous Iberian archives, Harvard legal historian Herzog examines the evolution of early modern Spain and Portugal and their empires. She emphasizes that claims to political and territorial authority were informed by legal doctrines that had developed over centuries, along with traditions of reinterpretation familiar to diplomats and intellectuals as well as less educated villagers. Moreover, according to Herzog, these patterns of settlement and of control of land, people, and other resources were influenced not only by warfare and treaties, but by the needs and desires of a variety of agents, including farmers, priests, municipal bureaucrats, colonists, and the indigenous peoples of the Americas. These processes were rarely planned or controlled by European imperial authorities, but instead dominated by what these various groups considered to be “what was right, what was just, what was possible, and what was effective.” It’s a dense but lucid study, and Herzog succeeds in her aim of moving beyond the usually separate histories of Spain and Portugal—and of Europe and the Americas—to complicate the accepted understanding of national and imperial boundaries as immutable facts rather than as ongoing sites of contestation. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/24/2014
Release date: 01/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
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