Murdo J. MacLeod is a Scottish historian of Latin America, publishing extensively on the history of colonial-era Central America, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic world. His monograph Spanish Central America: A Socioeconomic History is a major contribution to the field.
Murdo J. MacLeod is son of Mary and Murdo MacLeod. He attended the University of Glasgow, earning an M.A. (honours) in 1958. He moved to the U.S., entering the graduate program of the University of Florida and completing his doctorate in 1962 with the dissertation entitled "Bolivia and its Social Literature Before and After the Chaco War: A Study of Social and Literary Revolution." He taught at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Arizona, and the University of Florida, where since 2005, he has been Graduate Research Professor Emeritus. In his career, he was awarded a number of fellowships, including the Institute for Advanced Study in 1988-89. He has served on the editorial boards of scholarly journals, including The Hispanic American Historical Review, The Americas, Colonial Latin American Review, and as a contributing editor of the Handbook of Latin American Studies. In 1990-91 he was president of the Conference on Latin American History, the professional organization of Latin American historians, affiliated with the American Historical Association.
His major monograph, Spanish Central America: A Socioeconomic History, 1530-1720 was first published in 1973, a revised edition in 2008, and translated to Spanish in 1980. It treats Central American history in three broad periods, the conquest and early colonial era, 1520-1576, the search for economic diversification, ca. 1576-1635, and the seventeenth-century depression and early recovery ca. 1635-1720. It was well-reviewed by distinguished historian Charles Gibson, who called it "a work of very substantial scholarship, the result of prolonged researches in Central American and Spanish archives ... Again and again, MacLeod gives us new insights, fresh interpretations, and the well-digested results of investigations into subjects not examined before ... this is a book of scrupulous and unusual honesty, in which nothing is claimed in excess of the evidence, and where the author 'levels' with the reader at every opportunity." Another reviewer states that "the writer has presented the main lineaments of Central American economic history to 1720 so well and so thoroughly that his work is unlikely to be surpassed for many years." In a review of a co-edited volume, Spaniards and Indians in Southeastern Mesoamerica: Essays on the History of Ethnic Relations W. George Lovell notes that MacLeod's "forte has characteristically been that rare ability to give shape and explanation to an accumulated drift of events. MacLeod identifies several profound and enduring processes at work, and sees them operating in such a way as to produce patterns which reflect a marked diversity and regional variation in the nature of the colonial experience. More than any other contributor, MacLeod spells out a course for future research, research which he anticipates (with singular intellectual maturity) will precipitate the "heavy revision, if not demolition" (p. 190) of his own work as well as that of others."