Winner of the 2023 Friedrich Katz Prize, sponsored by the American Historical Association (AHA).
In the centuries before Europeans crossed the Atlantic, social and material relations among the indigenous Guaraní people of present-day Paraguay were based on reciprocal gift-giving. But the Spanish and Portuguese newcomers who arrived in the sixteenth century seemed interested in the Guaraní only to advance their own interests, either through material exchange or by getting the Guaraní to serve them. This book tells the story of how Europeans felt empowered to pursue individual gain in the New World, and how the Guaraní people confronted this challenge to their very way of being. Although neither Guaraní nor Europeans were positioned to grasp the larger meaning of the moment, their meeting was part of a global sea change in human relations and the nature of economic exchange.
Brian P. Owensby uses the centuries-long encounter between Europeans and the indigenous people of South America to reframe the notion of economic gain as a historical development rather than a matter of human nature. Owensby argues that gain—the pursuit of individual, material self-interest—must be understood as a global development that transformed the lives of Europeans and non-Europeans, wherever these two encountered each other in the great European expansion spanning the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.
About the author
Brian P. Owensby is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Global Inquiry and Innovation at the University of Virginia.
"Well written and theoretically informed, New World of Gain depicts the long encounter between the Guaraní of Paraguay and invading Europeans. Themes of rapacity, profit, inequality, and religious conversion mixed with violence weave through this historical narrative that illuminates both sides of the confrontation."
—Steve Gudeman, University of Minnesota
"New World of Gain offers a powerful new vision of Guaraní and Jesuits forging reciprocities in search of 'a land without evil.' A revealing look at intersections of lived history and constructed memory."
—John Tutino, Georgetown University
"In beautiful prose, New World of Gain builds a compelling narrative of the Guaraní mission world that will interest scholars and students of the colonial Río de la Plata but equally entice a much broader audience, including Europeanists, economic historians, and proponents of the global turn. This book promises to spark debate and dialogue for many years to come."
—Shawn Michael Austin, Hispanic American Historical Review
"Readers will find this book a fresh, original narrative about Spanish colonialism in Paraguay, drawing from multiple strains of historiography, Paraguayan as well as US, economic as well as anthropological.... Owensby invites us to think about how contemporary tensions and debates between individual profit and the common good are not recent but claim a much longer history, which has been shaped not only by the hands of trained scholars but also by the everyday lives of indigenous peoples."
—Alfredo Escudero Villanueva, H-LatAm
"Through his exploration of the Paraguayan missions, Owensby makes the case that European notions of economic gain were not inevitable and that societies could be organized in better ways to bring aboutgreater well-being. This book is important not only for its erudition about the Paraguayan missions but also for its understanding of the European colonial enterprise and economic thought in general."
—Erick D. Langer, Journal of Interdisciplinary History