In Their Own Worlds: The Ontologies of Early Modern Iberian America and the Caribbean

AHA Session 180
Conference on Latin American History 44
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Room 401 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Neil Safier, Brown University
The Sensorial Histories of the Early Modern Caribbean
Pablo F. Gomez, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Writing Entangled Histories of Early Modern Latin America
Marcy Norton, George Washington University
Ontology and Temporality: A History of Innovation in Early Latin America
Matthew D. O'Hara, University of California, Santa Cruz
Neil Safier, Brown University

Session Abstract

Standard models for the examination of early modern Latin America and the Caribbean remain shaped by the metaphysics of an individualistic, modern, scientific, capitalist “West.” Existent histories of the region rely on the ontological parameters of an imagined western modernity to ideate histories about, for instance, colonial relationships, the history of race, the history of Atlantic and global commercial exchange, environmental and medical histories about glacial ages and pandemics, histories about the circulation of knowledge related to the natural world, or the history of slavery and the African diaspora. Furthermore, discussions about intellectual, cultural and social mestizaje (hybridization/creolization) between “non-Europeans” groups and “western Europeans” also depend, with few exceptions, on “modern” European categories. This panel will discuss the possibilities and challenges of new methodologies for studying the ontological “variabilities” of the “lifeworlds” of early modern Iberian America and the Caribbean. Marcy Norton’s paper considers the value of entanglement as a conceptual tool to elucidate the destructive, as well as generative, nature of the entanglements and radical asymmetries of power that have often accompanied early modern globalization. Matt O’Hara paper will examine the history of innovation in New Spain (colonial Mexico) through a series of case studies focused on the experience of time, or temporality, and probes the way that historical subjects conceived of the future and innovation. Pablo Gómez’s paper will discuss the power of sensorial histories to explore non-European histories of knowledge production about the Natural World and Human bodies in the seventeenth century Caribbean. Specifically, this last paper will explore what these histories reveal about the epistemologies and ontologies that people of African descent developed in the region. Finally, Neil Safier, will provide comments on the three papers under the light of his proposal for the writing histories of knowledge production in Iberian America that avoid the binary categories of European vs. non Europeans that he sees as reductive and insufficient for capturing the fluid and vibrant nature of the ontological encounters of the early modern era in the New World.
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