Trends in Colonial Latin American Studies: A "Spatial Turn"?

AHA Session 128
Conference on Latin American History 29
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Room 101 (Hynes Convention Center)
Jorge Canizares-Esguerra, University of Texas at Austin

Session Abstract

Trends in Colonial Latin American Studies: a 'spatial turn'?Over the course of the past ten to fifteen years, the field of colonial Latin American studies has witnessed a flourishing of critical interest in material, lived and representational spaces. The emergence of a ‘spatial turn’ within this field – a phenomenon that may be detected in the humanities more broadly – is most visibly reflected in the proliferation of literature that interrogates the nature of colonial relations in Spanish and Portuguese America through the critical study of mapping practices and cartography. It may also be detected, however, in wider concerns amongst scholars of colonial Latin America for taking account of the role of space in processes of conquest and colonization as well as in the ongoing formation of colonial society. Recent works attend not only to the study of spatial representations (such as maps and geographical descriptions) but also to the production and struggle over lived and material spaces at a range of geographical scales and in varied regional contexts. Domestic and convent spaces, the public spaces of the colonial city, and the imaginative and material creation of spaces of encounter and conflict on Latin America’s colonial frontiers are just a few examples of recent research. Space, in other words, is no longer regarded simply as a passive container within which Latin America’s colonial histories unfolded but as an actively produced phenomenon that shaped and was shaped by social worlds.

The aim of this session is to assess the contributions of this ‘spatial turn’ and to explore the theoretical and empirical directions in which it may be taken in order to further scholarly understandings of Latin America’s colonial worlds. Have particular spaces and/or spatial practices been overlooked by scholars of colonial Latin America? Would our understandings of specific regions, places or processes benefit from more sustained critical engagement with spatial themes or with particular theorizations of space? Is there scope for productive interdisciplinary exchanges amongst (for example) historians, geographers, literary critics and archaeologists who attend to space and spatiality in the context of colonial Latin America? What new insights might be gained into the nature of colonial power relations by attending more closely to the material and discursive production of space? These are just some of the questions that can be asked, and more can emerge from the discussion between the panelists and the audience.


Heidi V. Scott, Aberystwyth University (

Caterina Pizzigoni, Columbia University (

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