AHA President, 1977


University of Michigan

From Perspectives, October 1985

Charles Gibson (August 12, 1920–August 22, 1985), after a long illness, died on August 22, 1985 in Plattsburg, New York, not far from the summer home of his boyhood on Lake Champlain.

A distinguished scholar of Latin American history, who was President of the American Historical Association in 1977,  his writing and teaching did much to shape a whole field of study. He wrote with elegant precision and economy, using meticulous scholarship to address questions of large significance. In such early work as The Inca Concept of Sover­eignty and the Spanish Administration of Peru (Austin, 1948) and Tlaxcala in the Sixteenth Century (New Haven, 1952; second edition, Stanford, 1967) he expanded a framework taken from institutional history to incorporate culture as a whole, and the clash of civilizations became the central theme of The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule, a History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519–1810 (Stanford, 1964).

He saw no conflict, however, between such broad vision and the precise historical inves­tigation to which he remained committed, a dedication that led to extensive and influen­tial work as a bibliographer (including The Colonial Period in Latin American History, published by the Service Center for Teachers of History of the AHA, 1948, and revised edi­tion, 1970; Guide to the Hispanic American Historical Review, 1946–1955, published with E.V. Niemeyer, 1958; his contributions to the Handbook of Latin American Studies, 195270; his contributions to the Handbook of Middle American Indians, 195875; his contributions to Latin America, a Guide to the Historical Litera­ture, 1971, and his chapter in The Past Before Us, edited by Michael Kammen, 1980,  and his part in the publication of numerous vol­umes of documents (of which The Spanish Tradition in America, 1966, is the best known). The syntheses developed in Spain in America, 1966, and The Black Legend: Anti-Spanish Atti­tudes in the Old World and the New, 1971, reflect this extraordinary command of the literature.

Historical scholarship was for Charles Gib­son a way of life, one that included devoted and sometimes exhausting service to the AHA, the major organizations of Latin American Studies, and to the life of the universities where he worked—from Yale, where he received his bachelor’s degree and PhD; to the University of Iowa, where he taught from 1949 to 1965, serving as Chair­man of the History Department in his last two years there; and to the University of Michigan, where he taught from 1965 until his retirement and where he served as the Irving A. Leonard Distinguished University Professor and also where he was named in 1977 the Henry A. Russel lecturer, the Uni­versity’s highest honor. For two decades he held important positions on the Hispanic American Historical Review, Comparative Studies in Society and History, and the American Historical Review.



The Inca concept of sovereignty and the Spanish administration in Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1948.

The Tovar calendar; an illustrated Mexican manuscript ca. 1585. Reproduced, with a commentary and handlist of sources on the Mexican 365-day year, by George Kubler and Charles Gibson. New Haven: The Academy, 1951.

Tlaxcala in the sixteenth century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952.

Guide to the Hispanic American historical review, 1946–1955. Edited by Charles Gibson with the assistance of E.V. Niemeyer. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1958.

The Aztecs under Spanish rule; a history of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519–1810. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964.

Spain in America. 1st ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.

The Spanish tradition in America. 1st ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

Attitudes of colonial powers toward the American Indian. Howard Peckham and Charles Gibson, editors. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1969.

The Inca concept of sovereignty and the Spanish administration in Peru. New York: Greenwood Press, 1969.

The colonial period in Latin American history. 2d ed. Washington: American Historical Association, 1970, 1968.

The black legend; anti-Spanish attitudes in the Old World and the New. 1st ed. New York: Knopf, 1971.

Guide to the Hispanic American historical review, 1946–1955, edited by Charles Gibson, with the assistance of E. V. Niemeyer. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus Reprint Co., 1976, 1958.