100 books like Life and Society in the Early Spanish Caribbean

By Ida Altman,

Here are 100 books that Life and Society in the Early Spanish Caribbean fans have personally recommended if you like Life and Society in the Early Spanish Caribbean. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640

Juan José Ponce Vázquez Author Of Islanders and Empire: Smuggling and Political Defiance in Hispaniola, 1580–1690

From my list on the Spanish Caribbean in the early colonial period.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born and raised in Sevilla, Spain, a city with profound ties to Spain’s colonial past in the Americas. Since college I've been fascinated by colonial history. Being a little contrarian, while most Latin American colonial scholars I knew focused on Mexico and Peru (the richest Spanish colonies in the so-called “New World”) I decided to focus my attention on their polar opposite: less prosperous colonies (from the perspective of the crown anyway), island societies, and places that were relegated to the margins. I love learning about the men and women in these colonial societies and trying to tell their stories to the best of my abilities.

Juan's book list on the Spanish Caribbean in the early colonial period

Juan José Ponce Vázquez Why did Juan love this book?

A multiple award-winning book that has given new wings to the field of early Caribbean history. Wheat’s insightful book forces to reckon with the extraordinarily close links between the Spanish Caribbean and the African slave trade in which Portuguese merchants played a crucial role. Even though local and peninsular Spaniards ruled, Afrodescendant men and women did most of the labor, cultivated most of the land, defended the colonies against other European powers, and constituted an overwhelming majority of the population, both enslaved and free. The early Spanish colonization of the region started a pattern of profound African cultural influence in the Caribbean that endures until today.

By David Wheat,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work resituates the Spanish Caribbean as an extension of the Luso-African Atlantic world from the late sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century, when the union of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns facilitated a surge in the transatlantic slave trade. After the catastrophic decline of Amerindian populations on the islands, two major African provenance zones, first Upper Guinea and then Angola, contributed forced migrant populations with distinct experiences to the Caribbean. They played a dynamic role in the social formation of early Spanish colonial society in the fortified port cities of Cartagena de Indias, Havana, Santo Domingo, and Panama City and…


Book cover of Hispaniola: Caribbean Chiefdoms in the Age of Columbus

Juan José Ponce Vázquez Author Of Islanders and Empire: Smuggling and Political Defiance in Hispaniola, 1580–1690

From my list on the Spanish Caribbean in the early colonial period.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born and raised in Sevilla, Spain, a city with profound ties to Spain’s colonial past in the Americas. Since college I've been fascinated by colonial history. Being a little contrarian, while most Latin American colonial scholars I knew focused on Mexico and Peru (the richest Spanish colonies in the so-called “New World”) I decided to focus my attention on their polar opposite: less prosperous colonies (from the perspective of the crown anyway), island societies, and places that were relegated to the margins. I love learning about the men and women in these colonial societies and trying to tell their stories to the best of my abilities.

Juan's book list on the Spanish Caribbean in the early colonial period

Juan José Ponce Vázquez Why did Juan love this book?

This is an oldie but a goodie. There are not many accessible books about the earliest years of Spanish colonization, but this is probably one of the best. With a terrific narrative style, Wilson showcases the years of Columbus's leadership at the head of the earliest colonizing efforts, and the increasing dissatisfaction of Spanish colonists towards Columbus, who was seen by many as a tyrant. In addition to this, Wilson reads between the lines of Spanish documents, and with the help of archaeological evidence, provides the reader with insightful interpretations of indigenous life, actions, and motivations.

By Samuel M. Wilson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Hispaniola as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1492 Hispaniola was inhabited by the Taino, an Indian group whose ancestors had moved into the Caribbean archipelago from lowland South America. This book examines the early years of the contact period in the Caribbean and reconstructs the social and political organization of the Taino.


Book cover of Captives of Conquest: Slavery in the Early Modern Spanish Caribbean

Tessa Murphy Author Of The Creole Archipelago: Race and Borders in the Colonial Caribbean

From my list on the Early Indigenous Caribbean.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of the early Americas, and while I often teach courses such as “The U.S. to 1865,” my real passion lies in the Caribbean. As the first site of encounter between the Indigenous inhabitants of the place we came to call the "Americas," Africans, and Europeans, this, to me, is where "American" history began, yet the history of the Caribbean—particularly in the era surrounding European arrival—remains relatively little known. As a Canadian teaching American history at a university in the U.S., I try to disrupt familiar historical narratives by showing my students that American history also unfolded beyond the borders of the modern nation-state.

Tessa's book list on the Early Indigenous Caribbean

Tessa Murphy Why did Tessa love this book?

This book illuminates a period that is all too often glossed over in early American history: the first few decades of Indigenous-European interaction in the Caribbean.

Stone uses archaeological evidence to painstakingly reconstruct the social and political dynamics of Indigenous societies in the larger islands of the Greater Antilles prior to the arrival of Columbus and then turns to colonial sources to show how these societies responded to European incursions.

She convincingly argues that the enslavement of Indigenous people was not just incidental but integral to Spanish exploration, conquest, and settlement of the Caribbean. By keeping Indigenous people at the center of her story, Stone shows the devastating impacts of this slave trade on the region’s original inhabitants.

By Erin Woodruff Stone,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Captives of Conquest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Captives of Conquest is one of the first books to examine the earliest indigenous slave trade in the Spanish Caribbean. Erin Woodruff Stone shows that the indigenous population of the region did not simply collapse from disease or warfare. Rather, upwards of 250,000 people were removed through slavery, a lucrative business sustained over centuries that formed the foundation of economic, legal, and religious policies in the Spanish colonies. The enslavement of and trade in indigenous peoples was central to the processes of conquest, as the search for new sources of Indian slaves propelled much of the early Spanish exploration into…


Book cover of Havana and the Atlantic in the Sixteenth Century

Juan José Ponce Vázquez Author Of Islanders and Empire: Smuggling and Political Defiance in Hispaniola, 1580–1690

From my list on the Spanish Caribbean in the early colonial period.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born and raised in Sevilla, Spain, a city with profound ties to Spain’s colonial past in the Americas. Since college I've been fascinated by colonial history. Being a little contrarian, while most Latin American colonial scholars I knew focused on Mexico and Peru (the richest Spanish colonies in the so-called “New World”) I decided to focus my attention on their polar opposite: less prosperous colonies (from the perspective of the crown anyway), island societies, and places that were relegated to the margins. I love learning about the men and women in these colonial societies and trying to tell their stories to the best of my abilities.

Juan's book list on the Spanish Caribbean in the early colonial period

Juan José Ponce Vázquez Why did Juan love this book?

Just like the United States has been fixated in Cuba since its creation as a nation, American historians have obsessed with the history of Cuba for decades, but most have focused on the 20th century, or gone back as far as the 18th century. Alejandro de la Fuente and his collaborators take the reader back to the first century of the Spanish colonization of the island and describes the transformation of Havana from a sleepy port town in the northwest of the island into one of the most important ports in the Spanish empire and the Atlantic world. The book combines great narrative history with abundant tables and graphs about trade, naval traffic, and urban expansion.

By Alejandro de la Fuente,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Havana and the Atlantic in the Sixteenth Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Havana in the 1550s was a small coastal village with a very limited population that was vulnerable to attack. By 1610, however, under Spanish rule it had become one of the best-fortified port cities in the world and an Atlantic center of shipping, commerce, and shipbuilding. Using all available local Cuban sources, including parish registries and notary, town council, and treasury records, Alejandro de la Fuente provides the first examination of the transformation of Havana into a vibrant Atlantic port city and the fastest-growing urban center in the Americas in the late sixteenth century.De la Fuente argues that Havana was…


Book cover of American Baroque: Pearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700

Carla Gardina Pestana Author Of English Conquest of Jamaica: Oliver Cromwell's Bid for Empire

From my list on the early modern global Caribbean.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of the early English Atlantic who began studying New England but soon turned to the Atlantic more generally and the Caribbean in particular. All the aspects of 17th century Atlantic history that most intrigue me played out in the Caribbean. A fascinating and complicated place, the West Indies—although claimed by the Spanish as their exclusive purview—became diverse, witness to a variety of interactions. I’m particularly interested in works that allow us to see these changes in the period when the region was a global meeting place undergoing vast shifts. Much excellent scholarship explores the later era of sugar and slaves, of major imperial wars, of movements for independence and emancipation. What interests me most is the period before that, when the region was being transformed into a crucible of global transformation.

Carla's book list on the early modern global Caribbean

Carla Gardina Pestana Why did Carla love this book?

Molly Warsh’s American Baroque perhaps best captures my point about the Caribbean as a global space. The book follows pearls harvested off the coast of Venezuela from the beds that produced them, through the enslaved divers who harvested them, the imperial officials who taxed them, the merchants who traded them, all the way to the consumers who valued them. It is a commodity history—a sort of history that often features the Caribbean region prominently—while at the same time offering a rich evocation of the many cultural aspects of the pearl’s role. Laborers who secreted pearls on their person to gain some of the wealth they produced and artisans who created lavish objects featuring pearls are as important to this account as the wealthy and powerful who displayed them in portraits of this era. 

By Molly A. Warsh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Baroque as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pearls have enthralled global consumers since antiquity, and the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella explicitly charged Columbus with finding pearls, as well as gold and silver, when he sailed westward in 1492. American Baroque charts Spain's exploitation of Caribbean pearl fisheries to trace the genesis of its maritime empire. In the 1500s, licit and illicit trade in the jewel gave rise to global networks, connecting the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean to the pearl-producing regions of the Chesapeake and northern Europe.

Pearls-a unique source of wealth because of their renewable, fungible, and portable nature-defied easy categorization. Their value was highly…


Book cover of Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830

Matteo Binasco Author Of Making, Breaking and Remaking the Irish Missionary Network: Ireland, Rome and the West Indies in the Seventeenth Century

From my list on to understand early-modern period Atlantic world.

Why am I passionate about this?

This is and will remain the example of historical research made by one of the leading authorities in the field of Atlantic history. Elliott’s book set the agenda by investigating and assessing the complex array of causes and consequences which brought England and Spain to have an ever-lasting cultural, economic, political, and religious influence on the history of North America and Latin America.  

Matteo's book list on to understand early-modern period Atlantic world

Matteo Binasco Why did Matteo love this book?

This is and will remain the example of historical research made by one of the leading authorities in the field of Atlantic history. Elliott’s book set the agenda by investigating and assessing the complex array of causes and consequences which brought England and Spain to have an ever-lasting cultural, economic, political, and religious influence on the history of North America and Latin America. 

By J.H. Elliott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Empires of the Atlantic World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This epic history compares the empires built by Spain and Britain in the Americas, from Columbus's arrival in the New World to the end of Spanish colonial rule in the early nineteenth century. J. H. Elliott, one of the most distinguished and versatile historians working today, offers us history on a grand scale, contrasting the worlds built by Britain and by Spain on the ruins of the civilizations they encountered and destroyed in North and South America.
Elliott identifies and explains both the similarities and differences in the two empires' processes of colonization, the character of their colonial societies, their…


Book cover of The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World

David Carballo Author Of Collision of Worlds: A Deep History of the Fall of Aztec Mexico and the Forging of New Spain

From my list on the Aztec-Spanish War.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an archaeologist at Boston University with a transatlantic family that spans Spain and Latin America.  My research has primarily focused on Mesoamerica, and prehispanic central Mexico more specifically, but the deep roots of these transatlantic entanglements have always fascinated me personally and as a historically minded scholar.

David's book list on the Aztec-Spanish War

David Carballo Why did David love this book?

The great Mexican author Carlos Fuentes wrote this book as a commemorative reflection of an earlier quincentennial, that of 1492-1992. Fuentes’ book is transatlantic in scope and considers the fraught history of Hispanic heritage in the Americas. The title metaphorically employs the mirror—both of the kind fashioned from obsidian by the Aztecs and the one bringing the viewer into Diego Velázquez’s masterpiece of Spanish golden-age painting, Las Meninas—in reflecting on this mixed inheritance five centuries later. Cultural mixing, or mestizaje, defines the creation of Latin America and its millennial-deep roots in the exchange networks, migrations, political alliances, and colonialism on the part of Mesoamerican and Iberian peoples, on both sides of the Atlantic. Fuentes is a gifted writer and Buried Mirror is what first got me thinking about these historical entanglements when I read it as a college student.

By Carlos Fuentes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Buried Mirror as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A best-selling and lavishly illustrated history of Hispanic culture from the "Balzac of Mexico," The Buried Mirror is a classic in its field.

The renowned novelist Carlos Fuentes has crafted a unique history of the social, political, and economic forces that created the remarkable culture which stretches from the mysterious cave drawings at Altamira to the explosive graffiti on the walls of East Los Angeles.

“A bittersweet celebration of the hybrid culture of Spain in the New World…Drawing expertly on five centuries of the cultural history of Europe and the Americas, Fuentes seeks to capture the spirit of the new,…


Book cover of Intercolonial Intimacies: Relinking Latin/O America to the Philippines, 1898-1964

Ignacio López-Calvo Author Of The Mexican Transpacific: Nikkei Writing, Visual Arts, and Performance

From my list on Asian-Latin American exchanges.

Why am I passionate about this?

Extensive research on cultural production by Latin American authors of Asian ancestry has given me a comprehensive understanding of the development of Transpacific studies. For the last decade, my research has focused, for the most part, on South-South intercultural exchanges and cultural production by and about Latin American authors of Asian descent. I have written five books dealing with these topics: 2008 Imaging the Chinese in Cuban Literature and Culture (2009), The Affinity of the Eye: Writing Nikkei in Peru (2013), Dragons in the Land of the Condor: Writing Tusán in Peru (2014), Japanese Brazilian Saudades: Diasporic Identities and Cultural Production (2019), and The Mexican Transpacific: Nikkei Writing, Visual Arts, Performance (forthcoming).  

Ignacio's book list on Asian-Latin American exchanges

Ignacio López-Calvo Why did Ignacio love this book?

This book studies the anti-imperialist dialog between twentieth-century Latin American and Filipino intellectuals, writers, and diplomats who, in her view, appropriated brotherly discourses of Latinidad and Hispanidad as part of their resistance versus US imperialism. This book opened my eyes to the fact that, as late as the twentieth century, Filipino intellectuals still saw themselves as an intrinsic part of the Hispanic world and took for granted that it was beneficial for their country to keep a cultural and sociopolitical alliance with Latin America if they wanted to rid themselves of the new imperial yoke: the United States.

By Paula C. Park,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Intercolonial Intimacies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a nation, the Philippines has a colonial history with both Spain and the United States. Its links to Latin/o America are longstanding and complex. Intercolonial Intimacies interrogates the legacy of the Spanish Empire and the cultural hegemony of the United States by analyzing the work of twentieth-century Filipino and Latin/o American writers and diplomats who often read each other and imagined themselves as kin. The relationships between the Philippines and the former colonies of the Spanish Empire in the Americas were strengthened throughout the twentieth century by the consolidation of a discourse of shared, even familiar, identity. This distinct…


Book cover of Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire

Amelia Dalton Author Of Pages from My Passport

From my list on the lives of those who pushed the boundaries.

Why am I passionate about this?

I ‘fell’ into being at sea by chance, through my father’s insistence I join him on a Scottish fishing boat for a week. I discovered I adored exploring unknown islands and lonely beaches, discovering wildlife and resilient small communities. In the 1990’s a female working amongst fishermen and commercial shipping was unknown, it was a wholly male, chauvinistic world. Using these skills I found a job being paid to explore – a dream job, pioneering but frequently lonely and dangerous. It resulted in my expanding the range and world of small expedition ships into areas with no infrastructure, unexplored and uncharted, lonely, empty coasts from the Arctic to Singapore. 

Amelia's book list on the lives of those who pushed the boundaries

Amelia Dalton Why did Amelia love this book?

The Indian Ocean, with its ‘Galapagos’ isles of the Seychelles has long attracted me and I have learnt so much from this superb narrative history of the Portuguese exploration in the Indian Ocean. 

They worked out the wind patterns of the Atlantic to sail eventually round the Cape of Good Hope, up the East African coast and on to India. Learning of where they called, traded, and fought inspired me with many historic and fascinating places to weave into itineraries. The book brings to life these magic, exotic shores and peoples of the Indian Ocean.

By Roger Crowley,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Conquerors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As remarkable as Columbus and the conquistador expeditions, the history of Portuguese exploration is now almost forgotten. But Portugal's navigators cracked the code of the Atlantic winds, launched the expedition of Vasco da Gama to India and beat the Spanish to the spice kingdoms of the East - then set about creating the first long-range maritime empire. In an astonishing blitz of thirty years, a handful of visionary and utterly ruthless empire builders, with few resources but breathtaking ambition, attempted to seize the Indian Ocean, destroy Islam and take control of world trade.

Told with Roger Crowley's customary skill and…


Book cover of Learning Empire: Globalization and the German Quest for World Status, 1875-1919

John Shovlin Author Of Trading with the Enemy: Britain, France, and the 18th-Century Quest for a Peaceful World Order

From my list on economics and geopolitics.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a historian, I’ve always been fascinated by the mutual influence of power and economics. I’ve written about the political-economic origins of revolution, war, and the search for world peace. I believe that to understand the sweeping geopolitical transformations that have shaped recent centuries—imperialism, the world wars, decolonization, or the fall of the Soviet Union—we need to consider the deep pulse of economics. The books that really grab me open up the worldviews of people in the past, explain how they believed economics and geopolitics shaped one another, and show how these assumptions impelled their actions in the world.

John's book list on economics and geopolitics

John Shovlin Why did John love this book?

I appreciate books that challenge my preconceptions. Grimmer-Solem does that by insisting that we understand German Weltpolitik before WWI not as an aberrant or markedly aggressive outlook, but as a normal response to the pressures and opportunities of turn-of-the-century world politics. The German search for colonies, spheres of influence, and a large navy were comparable to other nations—notably the United States. Such policies are unsurprising in a world where globalization has made developed nations dependent on intercontinental trade but where possibilities for future commerce and investment seemed to be closed off by the imperial scrambles of the late nineteenth century, notably Britain’s vast acquisitions in Africa, and by muscular US assertions of the Monroe doctrine.

By Erik Grimmer-Solem,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Learning Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The First World War marked the end point of a process of German globalization that began in the 1870s, well before Germany acquired a colonial empire or extensive overseas commercial interests. Structured around the figures of five influential economists who shaped the German political landscape, Learning Empire explores how their overseas experiences shaped public perceptions of the world and Germany's place in it. These men helped define a German liberal imperialism that came to influence the 'world policy' (Weltpolitik) of Kaiser Wilhelm, Chancellor Bulow, and Admiral Tirpitz. They devised naval propaganda, reshaped Reichstag politics, were involved in colonial and financial…


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