Cover of New World of Gain by Brian P. Owensby
New World of Gain
Europeans, Guaraní, and the Global Origins of Modern Economy
Brian P. Owensby


December 2021
400 pages.
from $32.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503627512
Paperback ISBN: 9781503628335
Ebook ISBN: 9781503628342

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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