Between 1765 and 1771, New Spain--roughly equivalent to modern-day Mexico--experienced a major administrative overhaul. The name for this procedure was a visita general, or general inspection. The monarch had ordered the visita, but the real project leader was José de Gálvez, the Visitador, or inspector. He had been carefully selected by the king for this task. Although he supplied Gálvez with instructions, the monarch remained at his court in Madrid.

For seven years, Gálvez would act as the royal representative in New Spain, investigating local conditions and introducing changes. At every step, he left behind documents that recorded his thoughts and suggestions. Towards the end of his visita, he created and asked other officials to create reports and summaries that he could submit to the monarch upon his return to Spain. The political, economic, social, and religious transformation of New Spain during this period became a model that other parts of the empire followed. Bureaucracy on the Ground in Colonial Mexico explores those sources and retraces the steps of the Visitador.

The documents that appear in this exhibition come from the extensive Genaro García Manuscript Collection. Its contents provide a range of perspectives on the history of Mexico, from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. Transcriptions from these documents reveal the economic focus of the Visitador.

Gálvez‘s visita ultimately increased productivity and helped to tighten royal control in the region. The monarch was so pleased with this result that he promoted the former visitador and allowed him to supervise subsequent visitas, aiming to replicate the New Spain model throughout the empire.

These years of change became known as the Bourbon Reform period, named for the French lineage of the monarchs in power in Spain at that time. Gálvez‘s visita, and his later contributions as imperial visita supervisor, made him a key player. His suggestions for administrative redesign did help increase the productivity of the American colonies for the Crown. However, they also intensified social and political tensions between the Spanish ruling class and American-born colonists. Such conflicts continued festering for decades, playing a significant role in the independence movements of the early-nineteenth century.