Spatial ordering and political control in the Caribbean lowlands and central Andes of eighteenth-century New Granada

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




David J. Robinson


Spatial ordering, Political control, Caribbean, New Granada, Colombia, Eighteenth century

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Geography | History | Latin American History | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation studies the spatial ordering and politics of rural landscape structuring of two major regions of New Granada during the eighteenth-century: the Caribbean lowlands and the central Andes. It focuses attention on the close relationship existing between settlement structures, political control, and the various mechanisms developed in order to resist it. The nature and details of changes in the rural landscape are documented, as are the activities of key observers and political participants. Regional processes of settlement foundation are examined as are the key elements of the rural landscape. The differences in the politico-administrative significance of the urban centers of Santafé de Bogotá and Mompox in controlling their rural hinterlands are also emphasized.

The analysis is conducted at two levels. First, at the general level the contexts of the two regions selected are examined, emphasizing their geographical characteristics, the morphology of their settlements and their politico-administrative structuring. Second, and more intensively, it analyzes the models of such structuring by means of a detailed study of the pueblos de indios of the central Andes, and the sitios and rochelas of the Caribbean lowlands, as well as the management and control of space in the territorial confrontation between the Caribbean Chimila Indians and the colonial State in the eighteenth-century.

The evidence extracted from the extensive documentary base leads to the conclusion that the spatial structuring of the central Andes was established primarily on the basis of a network of Indian villages established in the sixteenth century that permitted the State to control the major portion of the rural population. Distinctively, in the Caribbean lowlands the massive reduction of the native population, and the aggressive response to Spanish encroachments made the formation of such a framework of settlements much more difficult, and in certain areas impossible. European cultural patterns were thus not able to develop to the same extent and African and aboriginal components became regional sites and symbols of difference.

On to these differentiated regional structures the eighteenth-century Borbon reforms were applied. In spite of the comprehensive attempts by the Spanish Crown to bring uniformity to its colonial possessions, neither the methods applied nor the results obtained could or would be uniform. A fundamental difference was the fact that the Andean mestizo had been incorporated into the colonial order via the articulation of the Indian pueblos, a process never completed in the Caribbean region. Resistance to these reforms by the people involved is evident in each of the regions, each producing differences in what had become the "natural" order of things.


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