Competing Loyalties, Competing Empires: The Belize-Yucatan-Guatemala Frontier from the 17th to the 19th Centuries

AHA Session 149
Conference on Latin American History 34
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Anne Macpherson, State University of New York, College at Brockport

Session Abstract

The panel explores the complex interactions between four groups in the colonial-national borderlands of southern Yucatan: British settlers and colonial officials; Spanish colonists and their descendants; African slaves and their descendants; and the indigenous Maya. As a region on the periphery of both Spanish and British colonial control, the loyalty of its inhabitants and its fixed position within or adjacent to two global empires was constantly in doubt. Potential loyalty to colony or nation was often invented or imagined by the authorities of those entities, aware as they were of the pull of regional identities, ethnic communities, shifting group affiliations of other kinds, and the call of freedom from slavery or servitude. Furthermore, the relatively underreported movements to and from Belize by Hispanic, African-, and Maya-descent migrants across the contested and porous borders heightened British, Spanish, Guatemalan, and Yucatecan/Mexican authorities’ doubts over the allegiances of the inhabitants of the lands they tenuously governed. Our goal is to uncover patterns of change and continuity in such interactions across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, from the origins of the British colony and modern nation to the aftershocks of Yucatan’s Caste War. The three papers are all by scholars who are in the late stages of researching monographs on the history of this understudied region (comprising northern Guatemala, eastern and southern Yucatan, and Belize) in the 18th and 19th centuries, each having already published one or two articles from their projects and now beginning to write the respective books. They hope not only to draw scholarly interest to the region, but to inspire new thinking on the significance of multiethnic, multi-imperial borderlands—with a view to seeing them less as borders or frontiers, and more as centers of interaction among inhabitants of every status, kind, and origin.
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