Christopher Schmidt-Nowara is associate professor of history at Fordham University. He is the author of Empire and Antislavery: Spain, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, 1833-1874 and coeditor, with John Nieto-Phillips, of Interpreting Spanish Colonialism: Empires, Nations, and Legends.
As Spain rebuilt its colonial regime in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines after the Spanish American revolutions, it turned to history to justify continued dominance. The metropolitan vision of history, however, always met with opposition in the colonies.
The Conquest of History examines how historians, officials, and civic groups in Spain and its colonies forged national histories out of the ruins and relics of the imperial past. By exploring controversies over the veracity of the Black Legend, the location of Christopher Columbus’s mortal remains, and the survival of indigenous cultures, Christopher Schmidt-Nowara’s richly documented study shows how history became implicated in the struggles over empire. It also considers how these approaches to the past, whether intended to defend or to criticize colonial rule, called into being new postcolonial histories of empire and of nations.
In 1872, there were more than 300,000 slaves in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Though the Spanish government had passed a law for gradual abolition in 1870, slaveowners, particularly in Cuba, clung tenaciously to their slaves as unfree labor was at the core of the colonial economies. Nonetheless, people throughout the Spanish empire fought to abolish slavery, including the Antillean and Spanish liberals and republicans who founded the Spanish Abolitionist Society in 1865. This book is an extensive study of the origins of the Abolitionist Society and its role in the destruction of Cuban and Puerto Rican slavery and the reshaping of colonial politics.