My objective in this article is to examine the relationship between perception and classification in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Andes, focusing in particular on the Nuevo Reino de Granada (today, Colombia). During the first century of colonization, the visual identification of members of ethnoracial categories — indios, mestizos, mulattos, negros, and Spaniards — transformed over time and space in the Atlantic context. I argue in this article that we may be confining ourselves to a conceptual straitjacket if we limit our interpretation of terms like “indio” or “mulato” to their ethnic or racial dimensions as part of a self-enclosed system of classification, because such usages were embedded in broader schemes of perception and categorization that both antedated the Spanish invasion of the Americas and continued to be employed on the Iberian Peninsula. In particular, ethnoracial categories interacted in a complex relationship with the ways that observers reacted to the physiognomy of the individuals who bore these labels, so that the fluidity of classification can be seen as deriving in part from the interpretation of visual cues.

You do not currently have access to this content.