Sins against Nature

Sex and Archives in Colonial New Spain

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 21 illustrations Published: June 2018

Author: Zeb Tortorici

Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, History > Latin American History

In Sins against Nature Zeb Tortorici explores the prosecution of sex acts in colonial New Spain (present-day Mexico, Guatemala, the US Southwest, and the Philippines) to examine the multiple ways bodies and desires come to be textually recorded and archived. Drawing on the records from over three hundred criminal and Inquisition cases between 1530 and 1821, Tortorici shows how the secular and ecclesiastical courts deployed the term contra natura—against nature—to try those accused of sodomy, bestiality, masturbation, erotic religious visions, priestly solicitation of sex during confession, and other forms of "unnatural" sex. Archival traces of the visceral reactions of witnesses, the accused, colonial authorities, notaries, translators, and others in these records demonstrate the primacy of affect and its importance to the Spanish documentation and regulation of these sins against nature. In foregrounding the logic that dictated which crimes were recorded and how they are mediated through the colonial archive, Tortorici recasts Iberian Atlantic history through the prism of the unnatural while showing how archives destabilize the bodies, desires, and social categories on which the history of sexuality is based.


"Sins Against Nature is a true tour de force. Zeb Tortorici has painstakingly searched numerous archives in Mexico. He has provided detailed notes and has integrated significant theoretical findings into his analysis. Tortorici has written an outstanding book that will, no doubt, shape the scholarly debates within Latin American history and sexuality studies for many years to come." — Anderson Hagler, Transmodernity

"The cases in Sins against Nature . . . are equally rich in their layering of cultural complexity: religious versus secular, indigenous versus colonial, action versus desire. Tortorici helps us appreciate the challenges of understanding sexuality, not only in colonial New Spain but also in the present." — Vernon Rosario, Gay & Lesbian Review

"Tortorici has written an expansive, thoughtful, provocative, and innovative encyclopedic work. . . . While Tortorici generously invites his readers to peruse the documents themselves in a digital archive that he has made accessible, his book should stand for many years as an indispensable contribution to the history of so-called unnatural sexuality in New Spain. . . . With this book, Tortorici has singlehandedly raised the historiographical standard for the topic of viceregal sexuality and also made an important contribution to archival theory." — Nicole Von Germeten, Hispanic American Historical Review

"Sins against Nature fills a critical need for queer methodological approaches to colonial Spanish American history. Tortorici conducts rigorous and historically specific analyses of colonial Spanish America while insisting on a self-reflexive and fluid approach to the research process itself. The book provides scholars both a way for thinking about archives, sexuality, and desire under Spanish colonialism and, as important, guidance on the ethics and implications of historical research in the field and beyond." — Matthew Goldmark, TSQ

"You will never forget your first time reading Zeb Tortorici’s excellent book. . . . There is so much to praise in Sins Against Nature that it is difficult to know where to begin. . . . Sins Against Nature belongs in your hands and on your bookshelf." — Jarett Henderson, Itinerario

"This book stayed with me long after I had read it. Tortorici has a gift for bringing to life the people involved in these archival cases and humanizing many of them and the communities from which they came." — Stephanie Kirk, Early American Literature

"Tortorici has produced a well-written and deeply-researched book that will spark conversations, appeal to specialists, and work well in graduate seminars on historical methods and gender and sexuality in colonial Latin America." — Evan C. Rothera, Journal of Global South Studies

"Tortorici presents a carefully researched, soundly supported, erudite work of scholarship." — Aimee E. Hisey, Journal of Social History

"Tortorici’s innovative work is essential reading for historians of colonial sexuality, detailing as it does the ways in which the 'unnatural' was defined and catalogued in New Spain." — Linda A. Curcio-Nagy, American Historical Review

"Tortorici's intimate narration of both the case and his own archive experience opens consideration and conversation of fundamental ethical questions in the discipline.… The seduction, the titillation of archival discovery is not limited to research on sex. For many historians, it is the experience of research itself. And for that reason, Sins against Nature holds broad appeal, not only for colonial Latin Americanists or historians of sexuality but also for anyone teaching or practicing the craft of history." — Chad Black, H-LatAm; H-Net Reviews

Sins against Nature offers a strikingly original contribution to the understanding of histories of sexuality in colonial New Spain. Zeb Tortorici's supple readings of records of sodomy, bestiality, and masturbation reveal radically divergent orientations to knowledge, affect, and reason at the very heart of the colonial archive. This is a work of compelling historical scholarship—interdisciplinary, imaginative, meticulous, and critically self-reflexive.” — Anjali Arondekar, author of For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India

“Based on an astonishing amount of research that scholars will mine for decades (one wonders if Zeb Tortorici has gone to every single archive and library in all of Mexico), Sins against Nature is a rigorously argued work that takes the field to the next theoretical and methodological level.” — Pete Sigal, author of The Flower and the Scorpion: Sexuality and Ritual in Early Nahua Culture


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Price: $28.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Zeb Tortorici is Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures at New York University, coeditor of Centering Animals in Latin American History, also published by Duke University Press, and editor of Sexuality and the Unnatural in Colonial Latin America.

Table of Contents Back to Top
A Note on Translation  ix
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction. Archiving the Unnatural  1
1. Viscerality in the Archives: Consuming Desires  25
2. Impulses of the Archive: Misinscription and Voyeurism  46
3. Archiving the Signs of Sodomy: Bodies and Gestures  84
4. To Deaden the Memory: Bestiality and Animal Erasure  124
5. Archives of Negligence: Solicitation in the Confessional  161
6. Desiring the Divine: Pollution and Pleasure  197
Conclusion. Accessing Absence, Surveying Seduction  233
Appendix  255
List of Archives  261
Notes  263
Bibliography  297
Index  309
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Winner of the 2019 John Boswell Prize, presented by the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History (American Historical Association)

Winner of the Alan Bray Memorial Book Prize, presented by the GL/Q Caucus of the Modern Language Association

Winner of the Marysa Navarro Best Book Prize, presented by NECLAS

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7154-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7132-8
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