Fidel Tavarez

Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Chicago

Prior to joining Princeton’s doctoral program, I obtained a B.A. in history from The City College of New York with a concentration in colonial and modern Latin America. Over the course of my doctoral studies I have developed a keen interest in how European empires governed their colonies in the eighteenth century, an age of intense commercial competition.

As a scholar of the early modern world, my area of study is the intellectual, cultural, and administrative history of the Spanish Empire. I am primarily interested in the Bourbon Reforms, with a particular focus on the transformation of the empire's commercial system towards the middle of the eighteenth century. My main concern is to uncover the intellectual impetus behind the empire's attempt to rethink itself according to the principles of modern commercial society. I worry most about tracing the debates and conceptual dilemmas that contemporary ministers and thinkers faced in Enlightenment Spain and Spanish America. I study these debates both by placing them in the immediate Hispanic context of their production and by tracing how Spanish ministers read, appropriated and interacted with the classic works of the Enlightenment, particularly those concerning political economy and the rise of commercial society.

More broadly, I am interested in understanding how and why commerce became a matter of state in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. My interests, therefore, extend widely into the intellectual history of commerce, credit, money, political economy, political thought, natural law, the law of nations, administrative sciences, reason of state, and the concept of self-interest. I am particularly fascinated by the question of when and why early modern empires began to challenge the notion that bullion was equivalent to wealth and power. What were the implications of this conceptual transformation? Its implications were particularly significant in the Spanish Empire, whose economic system had been built on the extraction of mineral wealth from the New World. My dissertation begins where the identification between bullion and power ended in Spain. If not to extract bullion, what was Spain to do with such vast territory in the New World? My dissertation attempts to answer how Spanish ministers of the eighteenth century dealt with this troubling question.

Dissertation Title:

"The Commercial Machine: Reforming Imperial Commerce in the Spanish Atlantic, c. 1740-1808"

Degree Year
Year of Study
Area of Interest
Cultural History
Economic History
Imperial History
Intellectual History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
17th & 18th Centuries
Latin America and the Caribbean