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Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763 (2002)

de Henry Kamen

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Henry Kamen's work re-creates the dazzling world of Imperial Spain, from the capture of Moorish Granada and Columbus's first voyage in 1492, to its expansion into Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, ad the opening up of the frontiers in Texas and California in the eighteenth century. Drawing on the accounts of those who witnessed these great events, whether Aztec chroniclers, Italian explorers or Filipino sultans, Kamen balances the wonders of the Empire (the first sight of the Pacific, the astonishing voyages of the Manila galleons) with the horrors - the slavery, disease, terror and waste of human life it entailed.… (mais)
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Long before there was a Britain to have an empire upon which the sun never set, Spain established a presence that spanned the globe. From the Caribbean and Central America to the Philippines, the Spanish empire thrived as the first expression of European global dominance — an achievement even more remarkable when set against the unpromising circumstances from which it started. How Spain achieved this is the subject of Henry Kamen's book. A longtime scholar of Spanish history, Kamen marshals a career of study to explain the nature of Spain's dominance, one that he reveals is all too often misunderstood.

At the core of this misunderstanding is the nature of Spain itself. Kamen begins by highlighting the often-overlooked fact that in the 15th century "Spain" was an abstraction consisting of a collection of Iberian territories united only by a common monarchy. Because of this, the monarchs were constrained in their ability to deploy Spanish resources to achieving their goals. Fortunately for them, their resources were not confined to Spain alone. One of Kamen's main contentions is that the "Spanish" empire was actually more of a pan-European one, as Spain's leaders in the 15th and 16th centuries frequently drew upon the resources of their extended empire —including Italy, the Netherlands, and the Holy Roman Empire —to finance and staff their presence throughout much of Europe

While this mobilization was key to Spain's presence in Europe, their overseas empire was more of a purely Spanish operation. Because of this, as Kamen makes clear, their control was far less secure than their cartographic assertions made it appear. Spain's "empire" in the New World was concentrated mainly in the Caribbean, Mexico, Peru, and a few other coastal regions, while their control over the Philippines was limited mainly to their outpost in Manila. Much of this depended upon cooperation with (or co-option of) local elites, further underscoring the non-Spanish nature of Spanish control. While effective and profitable, this structure came under increasing strain as European competitors emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries, first to displace Spanish dominance in Europe, then to undercut Spain's presence in the wider world. Though the Spanish fought back against this, Kamen makes it clear that their efforts were ultimately unsustainable with their traditional imperial structure, forcing them to follow the example of their competitors and establish more of a truly "Spanish" empire by the 18th century.

Kamen ends his book short of Spain's loss of their Latin American empire early in the 19th century. While he makes it clear that the writing was on the wall by that point, it is unfortunate he did not carry his analysis forward to that point, for he has provided a superb overview of the rise and decline of Spain's empire in Europe and elsewhere. It does so by blending the political, social, cultural and economic history together, showing the multifacted interactions that defined Spain and the Spanish presence in the world. While this comes at the understandable cost of a lack of coverage of events within Spain itself, supplementing this book with a national survey covering these years (such as J. H. Elliot's classic [b:Imperial Spain, 1469-1716|1599538|Imperial Spain, 1469-1716|J.H. Elliott|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1450599976s/1599538.jpg|2579383] or Kamen's own [b:Spain, 1469-1714|1464634|Spain, 1469-1714 A Society of Conflict|Henry Kamen|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1375671948s/1464634.jpg|1455535] fills this gap nicely, giving readers a good understanding of Spain and its "Golden Age" of global preeminence. ( )
  MacDad | Mar 27, 2020 |
¿ Cómo un pais pequeño y poco poblado y aislado del resto de Europa logró crear un gran imperio? El autor sostiene que la creación de este asombroso imperio se basó en la cooperación de genges de muy distinta procedencis: portugueses, aztecas, ge
noveses, flamencos, incas o napolitanos. Fue la conjunción de esta increible di ersidad de recursos (materiales, humanos, económicos, técnicos...) lo que permitió la supremacía española durante tres siglos. ( )
  maskarakan | Dec 24, 2018 |
This is a good account of the geopolitics and culture of the early modern world, and an examination of how one of the more backward nations of Europe managed to spearhead the creation of Global Society 1.0. What impresses Kamen is not so much the Castilian talent for aggression, but the degree to which this empire was a multi-cultural and cooperative enterprise. Kamen greatly emphasizes the importance of the Habsburg holdings in Italy and the Low Countries in making this project work; a result of the fluke of Charles V coming to be both monarch in Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor. If I have a particular complaint with this work it's that at times Kamen doesn't seem to have much of an explanation for what the Spanish core brought to this enterprise, leading me to suspect that Castilian military prowness is being devalued a little too much in the process of debunking the legend. Though that may be the point, that after the initial spasm of expansion Spanish silver allowed more capable hands to take charge of the empire as a business. ( )
2 vote Shrike58 | Jan 6, 2006 |
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Henry Kamen's work re-creates the dazzling world of Imperial Spain, from the capture of Moorish Granada and Columbus's first voyage in 1492, to its expansion into Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, ad the opening up of the frontiers in Texas and California in the eighteenth century. Drawing on the accounts of those who witnessed these great events, whether Aztec chroniclers, Italian explorers or Filipino sultans, Kamen balances the wonders of the Empire (the first sight of the Pacific, the astonishing voyages of the Manila galleons) with the horrors - the slavery, disease, terror and waste of human life it entailed.

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