Cosmopolitanism, Mobility, and Royal Officials in the Making of the Spanish Empire (1580-1700)

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This dissertation explores the worldwide mobility of seventeenth-century Spanish imperial officials who traveled around the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Europe. My study focuses on the lower echelon of imperial officials in order to demonstrate how their experiences of service to the king in a variety of locales affected the the governance of the Spanish Empire and how such a polity was imagined by these officials as a global, yet connected and coherent unity. I argue that the officials’ circulation was central for the cohesion and stability of the empire. It allowed the actual and imagined overcoming of the far-flung geography of Spain’s empire and the incorporation, and sometimes exclusion, of diverse subjects across the globe. The intense and extensive mobility of the officials permitted the consolidation of certain imperial political practices, values, and patterns of rule and administration, which played a decisive role in the emergence of a common imperial identity built from the ground up. This imperial identity worked to give cohesion to a polity as heterogeneous as the Spanish Empire. Imperial official’s interactions with very different peoples and cultures spawned a cosmopolitan imperial culture that unified the many cultural, geographic, demographic, and social peculiarities of diverse societies under the umbrella of the imperial mission of enforcement, defense, and expansion of the crown’s rule and spread of Catholicism.

This work departs from the traditional national and area models of study by emphasizing the utility of an analytical framework that takes the whole imperial system—and not just one of its component regions—as the unit of analysis, in order to show that the histories of Europe, America, Africa, and Asia were far more entangled than previously thought. Despite the empire’s enormous diversity, extension, discontinuous territoriality, and the near-autonomous status of many imperial outposts, a great number of Spanish imperial subjects saw the empire as an integrated and coherent political unit. I analyze some of the conditions and settings that made possible the global mobility of the officials, and some effects of such circulation in the ruling and political imagination of the empire.