Conquest and Survival in Colonial Guatemala: A Historical Geography of the Cuchumatán Highlands, 1500-1821. Rev. ed.


279 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-0903-8
DDC 911'.72817




Reviewed by J.H. Galloway

J.H. Galloway is a geography professor at the University of Toronto.


This is a revised edition of a book first published in 1985, which was,
deservedly, very well received. Lovell traces the fate of the Maya
population, which inhabited a mountainous region of Guatemala, from
immediate pre-conquest times to the end of Spanish colonial rule. The
central event of these years was the decline of the population from
approximately 260,000 in 1520 to around 16,000 in the 1680s. Lovell has
marshaled his evidence and written up the results with delicately
controlled emotion to produce a regional case study, harrowing in its
impact, of the tragic consequences of the European arrival for the first
Americans. He has based his book on extensive archival research in
Guatemala and Spain, and has taken care to set his study in the context
of the work of other scholars in the field.

When told of the decision to reissue, rather than attempt to integrate
the latest research by rewriting the text and adding more endnotes,
Lovell decided to leave well enough alone and to simply add an epilogue.
This was a good decision. He has used these 20 pages not only to note
the new contributions but also to re-evaluate some of his sources. Thus,
he reconsiders the nature of the encomienda—a basic institution of
early Spanish colonialism—in Guatemala. He also develops the theme of
Mayan strategies of resistance to Spanish and later rulers—a theme
that brings him to comment on the present situation. These are still
difficult times in Guatemala, and although the Maya of Cuchumatбn have
rebuilt their numbers to pre-conquest levels, their troubles with
governments in Guatemala City are not over.

Thanks go to McGill-Queen’s University Press for its decision to
reissue this outstanding contribution to the historical geography of
Central America—and at a price that should ensure a wide readership.


Lovell, W. George., “Conquest and Survival in Colonial Guatemala: A Historical Geography of the Cuchumatán Highlands, 1500-1821. Rev. ed.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 15, 2024,