Subjecthood on Trial in Colonial Spanish America

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 12:00 PM
Columbia 9 (Washington Hilton)
Robert C. Schwaller, University of Kansas
This paper examines the relationship between race and ‘subjecthood’ in early colonial Spanish America. Building on Tamar Herzog’s investigation into colonial categories of citizenship, this paper argues that subjecthood and citizenship were intimately linked and mediated by categories of racial difference. In particular, this paper examines the ways in which indigenous persons, Africans, and those of mixed ancestry experienced their subjecthood. Using a variety of colonial sources, legal proceedings, inquisition cases, royal petitions, and bureaucratic correspondence, this paper argues that racial categories encapsulated particular constructions of subjecthood. These formulations of subjecthood evolved alongside the entrenchment of racial stereotypes and prejudices in colonial law. Although most non-Spanish subjects had greater restrictions placed upon them, and were subject to more onerous duties, at times even these individuals could mobilize their particular subjecthood in ways that benefited their interests and subverted the stereotypes placed upon them. In addition, the examination of Afro-indigenous subjects highlights the ways that ethnic variety within colonial society could confuse the legal and social construction of subjecthood. Most importantly, this paper highlights that contestation over racial labels represented a contestation of individuals’ subjecthood, in other words, their very real position as subjects of the king. These moments of contestation reveal the primary importance of communal perception and collective ascriptions of racial categories in mediating subjecthood. Overall, this paper elucidates the complex ways in which the racial and ethnic diversity of early colonial Spanish America fostered an often-contested discourse of subjecthood and citizenship.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation