UCR History Department Professor Robert Patch Wins Bolton-Johnson Prize

By Eli Brown, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
February 26, 2015

UCR Professor of History Robert Patch won the 2015 Bolton-Johnson prize for his novel Indians and the Political Economy of Colonial Central America, 1670-1810. This award honors the best book on Latin America written in English, and published the previous year.

The Bolton Prize was started in 1956 in honor of Herbert E. Bolton, an American Historian who was famous for his research on Spanish American history. After a generous donation from Dr. John J. Johnson in 2000, it was renamed the Bolton Johnson Prize. According to their website, the award was established to recognize “sound scholarship, grace of style, and importance of the scholarly contribution” for a book published about “any significant aspect of Latin American History.” They establish a three-person committee, and 60 or more books are assigned to each committee member for review.

Professor Patch started research for his book in 1988, and has been steadily adding to his knowledge concerning colonial influence on indigenous populations, especially in the political aspects. Patch is interested in understanding how “colonialism was not merely destructive, but also adaptive.” He explores how the Spanish, when colonizing Central America, would treat different indigenous peoples based on the “existing structures of production” and the efficiency of the established economies. If they thought the economy was efficient and working well, they would keep the order of things, and integrate the populations with their own society, while still being dominating and destructive to the indigenous populations as they took control. The “inefficient” economies, or ones that they did not see as good enough, would be enslaved or wiped out. He emphasizes that this is not a book that excuses colonialism or imperialism for its devastating effects and the atrocities it produces, but rather a book that explores the complexities and intricacies of the “stratified societies and effective political institutions” that were integrated into “regional and world economies” due to their proficiency in textiles, clothing, silver, and indigo. Patch feels that “colonialism adapted to what it found, rather than just forcing changes on the indigenous peoples, but also always exploited.” He also explores how enslaving indigenous Central American societies failed, Africans began to be enslaved to support Spanish colonialism and imperialism. Some places that were integrated, rather than enslaved, were El Salvador and Honduras, which produced indigo and silver, respectively. The integration of these economies resulted in vast differentiation of their societies, and a broadened trade structure between the two. The main message of the book is that “resistance culture consists not just of victimization,” and is complex and diverse.

Currently, Professor Patch is working on a study of “hispanish peoples,” or people of Spanish culture that are not indigenous, and how the elite continue to maintain themselves as elite “through a process of recycling of people via downward and upward social mobility,” and the influx of Spaniards being incorporated into local Hispanic society in the Yucatan. He will soon be writing half of a history of Mexico with a British publisher, and has been assigned 1821 to the present. Also, he is working on a history of the Island of Luzon, which is the main island of the Philippines, and feels this is especially important because many South East Asian scholars don't read Spanish (while Patch does).

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