The Colonial Spanish America Digital Jurisdictions Project

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Domains: The Colonial Spanish America Digital Jurisdictions Project maps the competing and collaborative, contiguous and concentric legal authorities in colonial Spanish America. Created in 2017 by a team of post-docs, doctoral students and faculty from Florida International University’s Department of History with assistance from our GIS Center, it is the first iteration of a project that seeks to represent the overlapping layers of legal jurisdiction, which was one of the more multifaceted aspects of people’s relationship to power and place in the past.


When we teach, learn and think about earlier times, we tend to imagine that people were located in bordered territories like our modern nations, counties, and cities. We look at one-dimensional maps of, say, a Spanish viceroyalty in the New World, and think we have the whole picture.

But before the modern era, people recognized that they were embedded in diverse relationships of power and place that transcended boundaries on maps. Structures of authority and belonging were multiple and messy, and people negotiated their position in the colonial world from within several domains at once: Church, crown, their guild, their village.

The team began with jurisdictions in Peru, focused primarily on the area of its capital, Lima. We are showing our work as we go, mistakes and all.


Adrián Alzate García, John Ermer, Morgan Gray, Lisa Howe, Gloria Lopera Mena, Judith Mansilla, Bianca Premo, Gracia Solis, Victor Uribe, and Diana Ter-Ghazaryan and Sheyla Aguilar de Santana, GIS Center, Maps & Imagery User Service. Spanish translation by Alfredo Escudero Villanueva.

Special thanks to Gayle Williams, FIU Latin American & Caribbean Information Services Librarian


Each map contains references to diverse sources we have used to create the maps and make sense of them. There are many other works, especially those featured in a graduate research seminar “Law in the Spanish Atlantic,” that inspired the project. Some include:

  • Lauren Benton, Law and Colonial Culture, 1500-1900 (California, 2001)
  • Jordana Dym and Karl Offen, Mapping Latin America: A Cartographic Reader (Chicago, 2011)
  • Tamar Herzog, Frontiers of Possession: Spain and Portugal in Europe and the Americas (Harvard, 2016)
  • Richard Kagan, Urban Images of the Hispanic World, 1493-1793 (Yale, 2000)
  • Susan M. Socolow and Louisa Schell Hoberman, eds. Cities and Society in Colonial Latin America (New Mexico, 199 ), and The Countryside in Colonial Latin America (New Mexico, 1996).

There are multiple wonderful mapping projects on colonial Spanish America. Two of interest:

  • HGIS de las Indias, vast project to map the multiple layers of jurisdiction in the eighteenth century, discussed in the article: Werner Stangl, “Partidos o gobiernos y corregimientos? Los principios rectores del desordenamiento territorial de las Indias y la creación de un sistema de información histórico-geográfico“, Jahrbuch für Geschichte Lateinamerikas Anuario de Historia de América Latina 54 | 2017 | 157-21.
  • Power of Attorney in Oaxaca, Mexico: Native People, Legal Culture, and Social Networks, directed by Yanna Yannakakis