The Bishop's Utopia Envisioning Improvement in Colonial Peru

Emily Berquist Soule

In December 1788, in the northern Peruvian city of Trujillo, fifty-one-year-old Spanish Bishop Baltasar Jaime Martínez Compañón stood surrounded by twenty-four large wooden crates, each numbered and marked with its final destination of Madrid. The crates contained carefully preserved zoological, botanical, and mineral specimens collected from Trujillo's steamy rainforests, agricultural valleys, rocky sierra, and coastal desert. To accompany this collection, the Bishop had also commissioned from Indian artisans nine volumes of hand-painted images portraying the people, plants, and animals of Trujillo. He imagined that the collection and the watercolors not only would contribute to his quest to study the native cultures of Northern Peru but also would supply valuable information for his plans to transform Trujillo into an orderly, profitable slice of the Spanish Empire.

Based on intensive archival research in Peru, Spain, and Colombia and the unique visual data of more than a thousand extraordinary watercolors, The Bishop's Utopia recreates the intellectual, cultural, and political universe of the Spanish Atlantic world in the late eighteenth century. Emily Berquist Soule recounts the reform agenda of Martínez Compañón—including the construction of new towns, improvement of the mining industry, and promotion of indigenous education—and positions it within broader imperial debates; unlike many of his Enlightenment contemporaries, who elevated fellow Europeans above native peoples, Martínez Compañón saw Peruvian Indians as intelligent, productive subjects of the Spanish Crown. The Bishop's Utopia seamlessly weaves cultural history, natural history, colonial politics, and art into a cinematic retelling of the Bishop's life and work.

Berquist cover


  • $45.00 cloth, 978-0-8122-4591-2
  • $45.00 ebook, 978-0-8122-0943-3
  • 336 pages
  • 25 illus., 24 in color, 6 x 9 in.

Content Excerpt

Table of Contents

about the author

Emily Berquist Soule is presently Assistant Professor of History at California State University, Long Beach. A former Fulbright scholar, Dr. Berquist has also been awarded funding from the American Historical Association, the Atlantic History Seminar at Harvard University, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the Spanish Ministry of Culture (among others). She has worked extensively in historical archives throughout Spain, Colombia, and Peru. 

At Long Beach, she teaches the history of Colonial Latin America and the Spanish Empire at the advanced undergraduate and Master’s levels. Her courses focus on such diverse topics as visual culture in the Early Modern Spanish World, slavery in Latin America, religion in colonial Latin America, and natural history in the early modern Atlantic world.

Dr. Berquist has also published on her second book project, Early Antislavery Sentiment in the Spanish Atlantic World (see corresponding article in Slavery & Abolition, June 2010.) This work investigates the global politics of early antislavery sentiment and the politics of slavery in the late Spanish Empire, with a special focus on the disastrous Spanish attempts to establish a slave-trading depot in the Bight of Biafra in the late-eighteenth century.

In Fall 2013, Dr. Berquist appeared as a historical expert on the Travel Channel historical artifact hunting show, “Dig Fellas.” She lives with her husband, baby daughter, and dog Leo in Los Angeles.