Imperial Subjects

Race and Identity in Colonial Latin America

Imperial Subjects

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: Published: April 2009

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

In colonial Latin America, social identity did not correlate neatly with fixed categories of race and ethnicity. As Imperial Subjects demonstrates, from the early years of Spanish and Portuguese rule, understandings of race and ethnicity were fluid. In this collection, historians offer nuanced interpretations of identity as they investigate how Iberian settlers, African slaves, Native Americans, and their multi-ethnic progeny understood who they were as individuals, as members of various communities, and as imperial subjects. The contributors’ explorations of the relationship between colonial ideologies of difference and the identities historical actors presented span the entire colonial period and beyond: from early contact to the legacy of colonial identities in the new republics of the nineteenth century. The volume includes essays on the major colonial centers of Mexico, Peru, and Brazil, as well as the Caribbean basin and the imperial borderlands.

Whether analyzing cases in which the Inquisition found that the individuals before it were “legally” Indians and thus exempt from prosecution, or considering late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century petitions for declarations of whiteness that entitled the mixed-race recipients to the legal and social benefits enjoyed by whites, the book’s contributors approach the question of identity by examining interactions between imperial subjects and colonial institutions. Colonial mandates, rulings, and legislation worked in conjunction with the exercise and negotiation of power between individual officials and an array of social actors engaged in countless brief interactions. Identities emerged out of the interplay between internalized understandings of self and group association and externalized social norms and categories.

Contributors. Karen D. Caplan, R. Douglas Cope, Mariana L. R. Dantas, María Elena Díaz, Andrew B. Fisher, Jane Mangan, Jeremy Ravi Mumford, Matthew D. O’Hara, Cynthia Radding, Sergio Serulnikov, Irene Silverblatt, David Tavárez, Ann Twinam


Imperial Subjects’ case studies provide rich detail of particular individuals and geographically- and historically-rooted groups of people negotiating their colonial subjugation.” — Laura Matthew, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“[A]n excellent collection of essays exploring the multiple ways social identities formed and evolved in colonial Latin America. The lengthy introduction to the volume provides a cogent and insightful overview of theoretical and methodological challenges faced by anyone interested in the exploration of racialised identities.” — Benito Cao, Social Identities

“[An] interesting and useful collection.” — William Schell Jr., Itinerario

“[H]ighly rewarding. . . . Imperial Subjects is a selection of sophisticated essays that reveal new variations and new subtleties in the well-explored terrain of colonial identity.” — Raphael Folsom, Colonial Latin American Review

“The introduction to Imperial Subjects should be required reading for graduate students entering the field of colonial Latin American history.” — Nicole von Germeten, Latin American Research Review

“In demonstrating the centrality of race to the making of colonial inequalities, Imperial Subjects expands the vocabulary for rethinking questions of social difference and political power throughout Latin American history.” — David Sartorius, Journal of Latin American Studies

“This impressive collection of essays highlights the difficulties inherent in writing about ‘race’ and ‘identity’ in the colonial period due in part to our inability to reach consensus on common terminology.... [T]he fact that the authors do not reach consensus on how to name or define what they examine should generate lively discussions in both undergraduate and graduate seminars, as will the compelling stories that animate their interesting essays.” — Frank “Trey” Proctor III, Hispanic American Historical Review

“This volume achieves excellence on many levels: coherence, readability, and a sophisticated balance of theory and empiricism.” — Yanna Yannakakis, Ethnohistory

“This volume provides an excellent collection of well-researched and well-argued essays. Together they represent the most recent and cutting-edge scholarship on this topic. . . . The diversity in time period and geography make the collection highly useful to those researchers and scholars interested in comparative studies of race and ethnicity. The manageable length of each essay, in addition to the excellent introduction and conclusion, make this work an ideal text for introducing students to current research. Overall, the high calibre and diversity of research presented by Imperial Subjects make it a notable addition to the literature.” — Robert Schwaller and Matthew Restall, Social History

“It is imperative that historians incorporate a number of perspectives to enhance our understanding of this unique period, especially within the studies on race and identity. Imperial Subjects does just that. The respective authors approach the subject through a variety of perspectives, incorporating unique themes, all of which are backed by a solid archival research.” — Larry V. Larrichio, Colonial Latin American Historical Review

“The essays . . . offer important insights into the complicated processes of social formation in the colonies. . . . [H]istorians, as well as advanced undergraduate and graduate students, will find much to think about in this provocative work.” — Karen B. Graubart, Catholic Historical Review

“This is a pioneering study of the constructions of socio-cultural identities in colonial Latin America. . . . [An] innovative collection of essays.” — David J. Robinson, Journal of Latin American Geography

“Grounded in solid archival research and informed by sound, up-to-date theoretical approaches, these essays break substantial new ground in showing how ‘ordinary’ people experienced living in the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Anyone wishing to sample the best in recent scholarship on colonial Latin America should begin with this book.” — Cheryl English Martin, author of Governance and Society in Colonial Mexico: Chihuahua in the Eighteenth Century

“This excellent and necessary collection brings together some of the most important scholarship on race in colonial Latin America. Importantly, the contributors do not assume racial and ethnic identities to be static, nor do they take hybridity as a given. Rather, they examine the social identities that emerged from ‘contact points’ between institutions and individuals.” — Pete Sigal, author of From Moon Goddesses to Virgins: The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual Desire


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Andrew B. Fisher is an Assistant Professor of History at Carleton College.

Matthew D. O’Hara is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / Irene Silverblatt ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Racial Identities and Their Interpreters in Colonial Latin America / Andrew B. Fisher and Matthew D. O'Hara 1

1. Aristocracy on the Auction Block: Race, Lords, and the Perpetuity Controversy of Sixteenth-Century Peru / Jeremy Mumford 39

2. A Market of Identities: Women, Trade, and Ethnic Labels in Colonial Potosí / Jane E. Mangan 61

3. Legally Indian: Inquisitorial Readings of Indigenous Identity in New Spain / David Tavárez 81

4. The Many Faces of Colonialism in Two Iberoamerican Borderlands: Northern New Spain and the Eastern Lowlands of Charcas / Cynthia Radding 101

5. Humble Slaves and Loyal Vassals: Free Africans and Their Descendents in Eighteenth-Century Minas Gerais, Brazil / Mariana L. R. Dantas 115

6. Purchasing Whiteness: Conversations of the Essence of Parso-ness and Mulatto-ness at the End of Empire / Ann Twinam 141

7. Patricians and Plebians in Late Colonial Charcas: Identity, Representation, and Colonialism / Sergio Serulnikov 167

8. Conjuring Identities: Race, Nativeness, Local Citizenship, and Royal Slavery on an Imperial Frontier (Revisiting El Cobre, Cuba) / María Elena Díaz 197

9. Indigenous Citizenship: Liberalism, Political Participation, and Ethic Identity in Post-Independence Oaxaca and Yucatán / Karen D. Caplan 225

Conclusion / R. Douglas Cope 249

Bibliography 263

Contributors 291

Index 293
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4420-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4401-8
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