The wide geography of Eva Maria Mehl’s study—the Spanish Pacific world from Mexico to the Philippines—indicates the large and connected fields of scholarship to which this book will contribute, and with some considerable force. Yet its scope is even greater, for one of Mehl’s claims—well substantiated—is that military and penal transportation systems from Mexico to Manila were enmeshed in transportation systems around the Atlantic too. She does not frame her history as global, but it speaks very much to imperial and global history, and the history of globalisation particularly, given the human movements at the centre of the story. Considering the great reach of this book, it is especially pleasing to read its richly historiographical introduction. So many monographs—often at the behest of publishers—minimise historiographies these days, or relegate them to endnotes. It is to Mehl’s credit that the introduction to her book sets out a sequence of overlapping scholarly fields with great care and in considerable detail. And it is to Cambridge University Press’s credit that they continue to publish this literature as accessible footnotes, not inaccessible endnotes. The result is probably the best available literature review of the Spanish Pacific, the Iberian world and its particular relation to global deportation and convict transportation. It is the latter field to which this book makes its most original contributions. As Mehl notes, for all the recent interest in global forced migration and transportation, the Philippines barely registers at all, not even when it is recognised that New Spain participated in such transportation elsewhere. Yet this book is a study of 4,000 or so military and penal deportations, a few from Spain itself, most from New Spain, to that immensely valuable entrepôt, Manila. The Philippines needed labourers and needed defence. Mehl explains also that the archival records often do not distinguish between the soldiers and the felons. Both groups she herself categorises as non-voluntary, as forced migrations. Mehl’s book, then, analyses the deportation of military recruits and veterans, felons whose enforced military service in the Philippines was their punishment, large numbers of vagrants rounded up in Mexico and, intriguingly, recalcitrant boys, turned in to Mexican authorities by their families and bound for discipline-in-exile. Mehl devotes one intriguing chapter to the latter, framed in part by scholarship (after E.P. Thompson) on emerging modern labour expectations upheld by working classes as well as capitalists. It is a truly fascinating set of cases in which families volunteered their sons, ‘spontaneous requests for deportation’, as Mehl puts it. Both parents and authorities in New Spain, she argues, believed that a period of banishment and military service far from home was a viable reform programme for troublesome young men. Judges, curiously, were not always compliant with parental wishes and sometimes refused these requests. It is a chapter, among other things, on eighteenth-century conceptions of childhood and parenthood in an unlikely setting, and under Bourbon reform. Another chapter focuses on the question of vagrants in New Spain, and a new push after 1783 to manage poverty and vagrancy through transportation. It is a study, inter alia, of experimental Bourbon governance, part of new mechanisms of social and urban reform. This strand of the book’s analysis situates it within the history and historiography of penal reform and modern punishment programmes as they were emerging towards the end of the Enlightenment period. The longer and larger framing is set up in the first chapter’s pithy account of the Philippines since the early 1500s. Mehl recounts not only movement from Iberia to New Spain to the Philippines, but the reverse, from coastal Asia to New Spain to Madrid. She includes a section on a Japanese embassy to Spain and Rome via Mexico, rightly wondering why this episode is little known except in Japanese scholarship. The point that carries over very well into the rest of the book is that vice-regal New Spain itself functioned as the significant metropole for the Philippines. Elsewhere, Mehl describes this as horizontal, colony-to-colony transactions. Ultimately, following this theme, the book deepens our understanding of complicated cross-Pacific movements and exchanges. Manila was always highly valuable but precarious property for Spain, much coveted by other imperial powers, and sometimes, as with the British occupation in 1762, successfully claimed by them. The imperial, penal and military domains thus fold together in this story. Mehl shows that the Spanish Pacific was far from a periphery. It was part of a circuit that connected the Pacific, the Americas and Europe to coastal Asia. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 18, 2018
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