Colonial Patzcuaro, Michoacan: A Population Study

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




David J. Robinson


Mexico, Geography, Latin American history

Subject Categories

Human Geography


Among the principal features of eighteenth century New Spain's demographic system were spatial variations in population growth, social and geographical mobility. While it has been demonstrated that the colony's northern provinces entered into a phase of dynamic population growth that was complemented by a notable increase in social and spatial mobility, little comparable work exists for the west-central core region of Michoacan. The present reconstruction of eighteenth century Patzcuaro's demographic system presented here is an attempt to at least partially fill that void. Located in the dominantly Tarascan Indian heartland of colonial Michoacan, the city of Patzcuaro emerged as the region's administrative and commercial center under Spanish rule. As such, the Patzcuaro basin permits one to monitor racially-specific increments of demographic and social change. Information gleaned from Mexican archival sources, par-ticularly the parish registers of baptisms, burials, and marriages provide the informational base for the analysis of Patzcuaro's dem-ographic system. The patterns of population growth, distribution, and racial composition are interpreted within the context of fertility, mortality, miscegenation, and migration trends, using a combination of diachronic and synchronic analysis. Compositional variables of the population, such as sex, race, age, civil and birth status are separately treated as the data permit. Several important findings emerge from the analysis. Principal among these is the slow pace of population recuperation in Patzcuaro. The recurrent demographic disasters that punctuated the late colonial period were matched by a steady trend in fertility. Also a pattern of moderately increased spatial mobility among marriage migrants, particularly within Michoacan was observed. Finally, the evidence pieced together from marriage and baptismal registers, as well as from available census reports, combine to sug-gest that colonial society in the Lake Patzcuaro area adhered to the traditional and social boundaries that characterized the mature colonial period (1580-1750). The slow pace of population recuper-ation, lack of dynamic economic growth, and moderate influx of migrants all contributed to the retention of Tarascan Indian cultural identity, and to the delayed pattern of hispanization. Clearly, in this portion of west-central Mexico, the Spanish and Indian worlds continued to live apart.


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