Lyle N. McAlister died on March 1, 2002, in Lakewood, Colorado, at the age of 86. His beloved wife, Geraldine, preceded him in death. A leader of the generation that shaped the field of Latin American history following the Second World War, McAlister's writing initially focused on the eighteenth century, but over time it broadened to encompass the whole colonial period. He dedicated his entire teaching career to the University of Florida.
Born and raised in Twisp, Washington, McAlister began his university studies at the State College of Washington, where he graduated in 1938 with a degree in geology. As with so many of his generation, war interrupted his life. Enlisting in the 501st Parachute Battalion, McAlister was assigned to intelligence duties and posted to Panama, where he developed his interest in Latin America. He later saw action in Europe with the 17th Airborne Division, making drops during the Battle of the Bulge and the crossing of the Rhine River. Decorated with the bronze star, he left the army in 1946 at the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Changing his academic focus to Latin American history, Lyle McAlister enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, where he received his doctorate in 1950. That same year he accepted an appointment as assistant professor at the University of Florida, where he remained on the active faculty until 1985. He retired with the rank of "Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus," the highest honor that the university bestows upon its members. McAlister served as department chairperson from 1959 to 1963 and as director of the Center for Latin American Studies from 1963 to 1967. A masterful, caring teacher, he guided 26 students to their doctorates.
Active in the profession, McAlister served stints on the Latin American studies funding committee for the Ford Foundation, as editor of the Latin American Section of the American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature, and as book review editor for the Hispanic American Historical Review. He was president of the Conference on Latin American History in 1982. [End Page 561]
Always impeccably researched, McAlister's scholarship was distinguished by its conceptual clarity, its disciplined text, and the weight of its conclusions. He established himself as one of the original thinkers of his generation with the publication of The "Fuero Militar" in New Spain, 1746-1800 (University of Florida Press, 1957). Based on his doctoral dissertation, this volume addressed the role of the military reorganization within the Bourbon reformist agenda and its institutional impact upon the history of Mexico. McAlister argued that the contingent consequences of military reform were more significant over time than its immediate results. He found that the military fuero, which through its judicial privilege set the army apart from the rest of society, undermined both the established social order and the stability of the royal administration, and in the long run it contributed to the disintegration of the colonial system. Writing during a period when military dictatorships held sway over many of the Latin American republics, he perceived in the privileges granted to the colonial army the roots of the praetorian tradition in Mexico. The "Fuero Militar" in New Spain opened the door to a second, and now third, generation of research into the colonial military by scholars in Europe, Latin America, and the United States, with an ever growing appreciation of the centrality of the armed forces to Bourbon colonialism.
Further research into civil-military relations followed. Embracing the interdisciplinary potential that the emerging social sciences promised, McAlister pioneered inquiry into the historical, constitutional, and social contexts of Latin American militaries. This scholarly period concluded with the publication of The Military in Latin American Sociopolitical Evolution (American University, Special Operations Office, 1969).
The most impressive of his many publications in terms of scope was Spain and Portugal in the New World, 1492-1700 (University of Minnesota Press, 1984). A masterful synthesis of the first centuries of Iberian dominion in America, this work has served as an indispensable reference for scholars addressing the Habsburg period and its antecedents. Perhaps the most memorable chapters are those that demonstrate the continuity between the Iberian reconquest and the conquest of America, those that explain the theory and practice of the institutional structures of Spain's established empire, and those that describe and interpret the society of orders. McAlister based the latter chapter upon his landmark 1963 article in the Hispanic American Historical Review, wherein he elucidated the system of legal estates and privileged fueros that formed the institutional foundation of colonial society. [End Page 562]
As a scholar, Lyle McAlister's interpretation of the colonial period in Spanish American history has now influenced more than one generation of historical scholarship.