Ethnohistory Spring 1961 Vol. 8 No. 2, p198-199.
Culture and Conquest: America's Spanish Heritage. By George M. Foster. (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1960. vii + 272pp. Illustrations, map, bibliography, and index. $6. 00.)
George M. Foster states the purpose of his study very simply in the Foreword of his book by saying:
This is a study of acculturation or, perhaps more accurately, of a series of culture contact problems and hypotheses exemplified by the sixteenth- century Spanish conquest of much of America. I am trying to do two things: to present a solid body of substantive data onSpanish ethnography, as an aid to anthropologists working in the Spanish American field; to use these data, in relation to the New World, to consider aspects of acculturation theory which, it seems to me, have not received the attention they deserve.
The pages which follow simply spell out in very interesting detail the essence of the introductory two sentences. Most studies dealing with Latin American culture have for the most part focused on Indian culture, and only occasionally bring-into perspective the culture which added the "Latin" to the American. Foster has reversed the order by making a careful study of Iberian culture and then pointing out the content which was introduced into the New World by the Spaniards, and in doing so shows that culture-content was a force thoroughly implemented by the conquerors from the start. One of the factors which serves to clarify the acculturation process of Latin America is the distinction made by Foster between "Conquest culture" or formal and informal culture.
It was impossible for the Indians to assimilate the variety of cultures coming from multi-regioned Spain, hence a selection and a simplification was made in order to accelerate the process of conquest and make the new order more comprehensible to the neophytes. As a result, there is found today a uniformity of Spanish culture from the Rio Grande to Patagonia which is not the case in the mother country. Foster labels as formal that part of culture which was introduced consciously and with forethought, and informal that which was imparted by casual and unplanned contact. This "selective giving influences the process of change perhaps more than any other element in the situation, " and brings about, I would add, the uniform institutions of government, religion, and language which were so in- strumental in Spain's empire building.
The first three chapters of the 17 into which the book is divided present the ideological basis upon which the subsequent chapters are built. That part of the study which deals with the concept of "Conquest Culture" and the diversity of Spanish culture is perhaps the most stimulating to the reader, and the remaining part of the book dealing with everything from fishing techniques to religion, feast days, and fiestas is the most informative. A feature of the study which is particularly interesting is the manner in which each chapter is set up and handled as a unity. The author begins with a section entitled: In Spanish America, followed by another one: In Spain, and then sums it: up by a third one labelled: Comparisions and Comments, rounded out by a table of relevant references. This helps to contain the discussion within bounds and convey to the reader a well rounded informative account of each phase of culture.
Culture and Conquest provides a complete body of cultural material of l6th-century Spain from its grass root villages to the large population centers, and then contrasts this wealth of material with the selected portions which became the heritage of Latin America through the selective and simplified method of the conquest. It is a book which a student of Latin America can ill afford to have missing from his reference shelf, for, in addition to the 35 pages of explanatory texts, there is a 20-page selected bibliography of sources which are very useful.
University of Denver
Arthur L. Campa
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