Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Workshop: "The Indians and the Making of the Indies," by Juan Carlos De Orellana Sánchez, University of Texas at Austin (New Work in Progress Series)

Tue, April 7, 2020 | GAR 4.100

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

This chapter focuses on the Indians’ role in the construction of the Indies as a legal and political
space of the Spanish Monarchy during the seventeenth century. The Indians constituted the most
important difference between the Old and New worlds. As the Crown recognized their existence
as a particular sociopolitical group by creating the Republic of the Indians, it both accepted and
guaranteed the specif privileges, obligations, authorities and, institutions that they did not share
with any other group of vassals of the Monarchy. However, the contribution of the Indians to the
legal-political construction of the Indies was not limited to inhabiting the territory or possessing
their own set of laws. The historiography on indigenous intellectuality has shown that through
the practice of their offices, Indian interpreters, notaries, local judges, governors, and other go-betweeners shaped and strengthened the colonial system. These studies, nonetheless, do not
address the issues of how Indians understood and conceived not only the role of their peers
within the Spanish Empire but the Empire as a whole. I read the chronicles of Guaman Poma de
Ayala and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega alongside briefs, letters, and administrative documentation
that Indians from the Peruvian viceroyalty produced both to defend their lands and to equalize
the rights of the Indigenous nobility to the Spanish one, to explain it. I argue that indigenous
peoples engaged in practices that allowed them to understand the workings and problems of the
monarchy and propose solutions. In doing this, they also became agents in the definition of their
own legal and political status as vassals. This chapter illustrates that the indigenous contributions
to the legal-political construction of the Indies happened also in the conceptual and intellectual

My dissertation, "A Brief Account of the Construction of the Indies. Law, Movement and Political
Thinking in the Invention of the Spanish New World (1560–1700)," studies how the Spanish
imperial concept of the Indies evolved during the sixteenth century to encompass a whole new
world and how it framed the development and consolidation of unique political-legal spaces
during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It explains why the provinces of the Indies
evolved legally, politically, and culturally not only so similar among one another, but so different
to Castile. It argues that the law, the movement of functionaries and individuals, as well as the
accumulation of experience and circulation of knowledge contributed to create, constantly
define, and give cohesion to the largest legal-political space of the Spanish Monarchy. No other
body of laws ruled such a vast territory, such a large and varied group of peoples. In the chapter I
will circulate I will explain the role that the Indians played in this process.

Juan Carlos De Orellana Sánchez is a Peruvian historian specializing in the legal, political, and
intellectual history of Spanish America and the Spanish Empire in the sixteenth and eighteenth
centuries. He wrote a License Thesis on the political relations between the City Council of
Lima and the Crown and has published an article that shows that while denouncing the
corruption of royal functionaries, Spanish Americans explained how the economy of the Empire
should work, and triggered political reforms. De Orellana has presented his research in Germany,
Italy, Mexico, and Spain. Before coming to UT, Juan Carlos taught several years at University
level in Peru. Read more about his work at:


Tiana Wilson
Doctoral Student in the History Department,
Graduate Research Assistant, Institute for Historical Studies, and
Coordinator, New Work in Progress Series
University of Texas at Austin

Free and open to the public. Please RSVP to to sign-up to attend and receive the pre-circulated paper. Refreshments provided to all who RSVP. The Institute for Historical Studies is committed to sustainable practices and minimizing waste. To that end, we have eliminated all bottled water and encourage attendees to bring their own reusable canteens to fill at our first-floor bottle-refilling station.

Sponsored by: Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History, and the Center for European Studies

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