New Perspectives on Marriage and Courtship in Mexico

AHA Session 288
Conference on Latin American History 70
Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Mile High Ballroom 4A (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Jocelyn Olcott, Duke University
The Audience

Session Abstract

This panel of four papers explores the widening range of themes that historians are linking to courtship and marriage.  In the 1980s courtship and marriage became important focuses of study as scholarly interest blossomed in the history of women and gender in Mexico and Latin America more generally.  For scholars who sought a window onto the lives and status of women, records about courtship and marriage offered rich sources.  Such records include parish registers of marriages themselves, civil and ecclesiastical laws, ideological discourses, and judicial records of courtships and marriages that had come into dispute.  These sources also helped scholars explore gender—particularly as it was embedded in the relations between women and men—as a fundamental structure in society. 

Consideration of women and of gender have since been more widely melded into the framing of historical studies.  Yet marriage and courtship continue to command the attention of historians doing research on Mexico.  The range of issues analyzed in the context of courtship and marriage has widened significantly.  Indeed, with the increasing development of women’s and gender studies, courtship and marriage have become fairly mainstream avenues that historians might follow even as they make inquiry into other issues. 

The rationale of this panel is to explore various ways in which courtship and marriage can illuminate broad issues in history.  The four papers represent a wide range of approaches and thematic concerns, and a sweeping chronological span—from the seventeenth century to the 1960s.  Yet there is substantial “conversation” among the papers.  They speak to a number of shared topics, including relations between genders; emotional experiences of men and women; understandings of morality and spiritual well-being; family ties; expectations and ideologies about gender roles; patriarchy in households and families; sexuality; individuals and couples in relation to state and church authorities; household composition and family economies; migration and relocation.  

The panel focuses on Mexico partly because Mexico’s rich archival holdings have yielded a wealth of scholarship in women’s, gender, social, and cultural history.  However, the panel as a whole does not seek to propose that the Mexican case is exceptional.  Rather, the panel aims to open a venue for discussion of comparisons—not only among various cultures, regions, and periods in Mexico’s history, but also between Mexico and other countries.

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