The Interior Lives of Enslaved and Free People in Colonial Latin America

AHA Session 250
Conference on Latin American History 53
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Riverside Ballroom (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
Rachel O'Toole, University of California, Irvine
David Kazanjian, University of Pennsylvania

Session Abstract

This panel illuminates the imaginaries of enslaved and free Afro-Latin Americans as well as the challenges faced by scholars in reconstructing these interior lives throughout colonial Latin America. The papers, together, argue that enslaved and free people employed civic presentations, judicial court claims, and Catholic devotions, among other strategies, to articulate political, social, and religious perspectives during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The papers focus on the regions of Peru, Brazil, and Colombia, where social and political historians have been remarkably successful in establishing questions of demography, economy, and labor within and beyond slaveholding (Bowser 1973; Hünefeldt 1994; Karasch 1987; Newsom and Minchin 2007; Lasso 2007; Schwartz 1985). Employing methodologies inspired by the work of Herman Bennett, Marisa Fuentes, and Cristina Sharpe, the papers propose how historians can reconstruct the political philosophies, spiritual practices, and material goals of African-descent men and women. Unsatisfied with revealing only African and African-descent peoples’ social positions, the papers, for example examine how African-descent women accused of witchcraft, those claiming manumission, and free people of color articulated public identities, formed lasting communities, and expressed political alliances.

Tamara Walker’s paper explores how African-descent women accused by the Inquisition of witchcraft were instead engaged in excessive devotion to Catholicism. Brandi Waters and John Marquez demonstrate how enslaved people expertly employed legal avenues based on their bodily suffering to expand recognition of African-descent humanity. In her paper, Rachel O’Toole recovers the ways black men publicly claimed subjecthood in order to expand a legal definition of freedom into one of their own design. In all four papers, the scholars grapple with how archival practices, the violences of slaveholding (Finch 2015, Trouillot 1997), and ongoing racial assumptions within current historiography have hidden the motivations, the desires, and the intimacies of African and African-descent women and men of the Americas.

The audience for this panel includes scholars and teachers of the African Diaspora and slavery throughout the Americas, including Latin America and the United States as well as scholars and teachers of Latin America and the Atlantic World.

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