In “New Directions in Colonial Latin American History,” we present to you four articles that advance the current state of the scholarship on colonial Latin America by challenging us to think about and develop new methodologies and technologies. By focusing on sexuality, mapping borders, the connections between idolatry and disease, and the relationship between language and the law, these scholars provide deeply interdisciplinary accounts to reassess the forms that power and governance took during colonial times. They find that archives constructed subjects—particularly indigenous individuals and communities and those whose bodies marked deviance—according to colonial rule and projects designed to categorize and define coherent individual identities. By combining methods developed in social, cultural, intellectual, and political history, as well as art history, geography, linguistics, anthropology, and sexuality/queer studies, these four articles showcase the most recent trajectory of colonial Latin American historiography.
Previous generations of scholars have developed strong studies of the colonial political-religious institutions as well as social and economic histories of everyday life. Over the past 30 years, we have begun to understand more about indigenous languages and the interaction of indigenous people with Spaniards. Scholars of this generation have also developed more innovative methodologies to study the interactions involved in colonial rule and to grasp more deeply the ways in which people of African descent lived their lives. In the past decade, more scholars have challenged the field of colonial Latin American history to deal with the complex issues of voice and archivization—in other words, to engage in more theoretically informed approaches to culture, power, and the production of knowledge. The authors in this special issue of HAHR, by providing extensive analysis of knowledge production in colonial Latin America, answer this call by revising previous, less dynamic notions of the archive.
By focusing on subjectivity in eighteenth-century New Spain, María Elena Martínez's “Sex and the Colonial Archive: The Case of ‘Mariano’ Aguilera” makes bold claims about what archival practices can and cannot tell us about the history of sexuality in colonial Latin America. Focusing on the case of Mariano Aguilera, an individual who identified, at least juridically, as a man, Martínez conceptualizes queerness as discursive and performative. Martínez witnesses the limits of the archive in allowing the historian to understand subjectivity at the same time as she understands the archive's creative power in its attempt to produce the veneer of the subject. Martínez thus maintains that “there are no queer subjects in these documents, at least not ones produced independent of discursive operations.” Our methods thus must pay attention to the twists and turns of archival production, which will allow us to understand the more creative aspect of archival practice—in this case, the way that the archive creates subjectivity through the questioning of Aguilera's gender.
In this process, we witness an unusual case that brings into the archive a dispute regarding gender status. Aguilera brings the case in order to assert that he is a man who can marry a woman. At some point he had been known locally as a girl, but, as he had taken the virginity of a woman and now wished to marry her, he petitioned a judge to declare him a man. As evidence, Aguilera also noted that he dressed as a man and performed men's work. Medical authorities determined that Aguilera could not perform the sexual functions of either a man or a woman and thus that he should be declared a “true Androgyne.” The judge ordered Aguilera exiled from his hometown and also said that he was to remain unmarried and to continue to wear male clothing. Despite the fact that nobody had leveled criminal charges against Aguilera, he was punished. Further, Aguilera became gendered against his apparent will: he became an androgyne. Finally, Martínez notes that the archive has significant limits: we cannot know how Aguilera felt about his gender or why he decided to declare himself to be a man. We invite readers to visit http://hahr-online.com/category/open-forum/maria-elena-martinez for a forum on this essay, featuring contributions by Ivonne del Valle, Marta Valentin Vicente, Zeb Tortorici, and Pamela Voekel.
Jeffrey A. Erbig Jr.'s “Borderline Offerings: Tolderías and Mapmakers in the Eighteenth-Century Río de la Plata” shows that the creation of borders was not solely an imperial imposition but rather a complex negotiation between indigenous caciques, local leaders, and the Iberian crowns. He argues that indigenous populations used imperial border making for their own purposes. Indigenous leaders were shrewd negotiators, individuals willing and able to take advantage of interimperial rivalries. By establishing encampments of mobile indigenous populations (tolderías) in strategic locations, the Spanish were able to resist Portuguese encroachment in the late eighteenth century. The importance of the presence of the tolderías gave the local caciques, the rulers of the ethnic groups Charrúas and Minuanes, substantial leverage with both the Spanish and the Portuguese. As Erbig notes, the power dynamics were in some senses reversed in the borderlands, as some “caciques and their tolderías were the principal power brokers and Iberian agents were often their clients.”
Erbig's article corrects previous historiography, which often has ignored the eighteenth-century effort to assert borders and has suggested that any boundaries existent at that time were significantly more fluid than the national boundaries made in the nineteenth century. Instead, Erbig notes that the legal status of borders in eighteenth-century Latin America required the Iberian powers to make maps asserting the borders of their territories. Paradoxically, this placed a certain amount of power with the local leaders (often indigenous people) who lived along the border.
Charrúa and Minuan were ethnonyms that had developed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which showed the authority of particular indigenous hereditary groups in the region. This production of identity and subjectivity was, of course, part of the colonial process, but as Erbig emphasizes, the production of knowledge here came primarily from indigenous leaders, who held significant power not only over their communities but also over the process of colonial expansion. In other words, the tolderías ably manipulated local settlers and both the Spanish and Portuguese authorities in order to maintain control over their borders.
Using geographic information system (GIS) technology, Erbig maps the changing borders of tolderías, the placement of European settlers, and the boundaries between Spanish and Portuguese empires. With this technology, Erbig is able to show in great detail the efforts of the local caciques, which then allows him to make arguments about their relative success. We invite readers to access the interactive GIS maps by following the relevant links in Erbig's piece.
Amara Solari's “The ‘Contagious Stench’ of Idolatry: The Rhetoric of Disease and Sacrilegious Acts in Colonial New Spain” shows that discourses on idolatry and disease were intimately connected. Beginning with a secular priest's description in the early seventeenth century of indigenous religion as “vomit,” Solari shows that friars and priests used visceral rhetoric related to the diseased body in order to emphasize the struggle to combat idolatry. The conceptual differences between idolatry, a set of belief practices, and disease, a set of biological organisms, ultimately collapsed. Solari notes that the “vomit” that this priest accorded to idolatry was the very same regurgitation that emanated from the papal bull of Pope Paul III, but the pope referred to this vomit as emanating from Judaism. Solari argues that this visceral metaphor extended to the close relationship that Spaniards believed to exist between idolatry and disease. In fact, as epidemic disease raged across New Spain, the extirpators took advantage of both the discourse and theories of disease to explain why the natives needed to avoid idolatrous activity.
Idolatry, a term with an ambiguous definition, became by the late colonial period reconceptualized as disease. As the Spaniards in Yucatán and central Mexico generally held to miasmic and humoral theories of disease, they envisioned the environment around the indigenous population as the chief cause of the epidemics wreaking havoc. In addition, Spaniards believed that idolatry was contagious, which thus placed the bodily metaphors onto the expanding contagion theory of disease.
Solari notes that in the register of the visual, we can see indigenous bodies tormented by the devil and the sin of idolatry. In Fray Bernardino de Sahagún's Primeros memoriales, for example, we find the preconquest rite of Atamalqualiztli depicted as including extensive consumption of frogs and snakes along with individuals vomiting up liquid substances. In a later depiction by Fray Diego Valadés of the Mexica universe as ruled by Satan, we find similar vomit, though the context has changed: now idolatry is making one sick, in contrast to Sahagún's more ethnographic depiction of an indigenous rite.
In the seventeenth century, the connection between epidemic disease and idolatry was also linked to the resettlement of indigenous populations, particularly in Yucatán. Medical practitioners and officials of the Spanish crown argued that the Maya needed to be resettled in pueblos so that spiritual disease could be contained. This also allowed local clerics to more effectively provide spiritual guidance and to better control the sins of the local population. Here, for Solari, the link between epidemic disease and idolatry allowed for knowledge (about disease) to relate to power (over religious practice).
Yanna Yannakakis and Martina Schrader-Kniffki, in “Between the ‘Old Law’ and the New: Christian Translation, Indian Jurisdiction, and Criminal Justice in Colonial Oaxaca,” show that indigenous officials in seventeenth-century Oaxaca used indigenous history and the rules of Christianity to help formulate legal arguments and to position themselves in relation to the Spaniards who lived among them. These officials manipulated the colonial structure based on their own local traditions, but native criminal records formed part of a larger system of knowledge produced by Catholic clerics, interpreters, and Spanish officials in an intertextual environment. The unique corpus of documents that Yannakakis and Schrader-Kniffki study is comprised of criminal cases written in Nexitzo and Cajonos Zapotec produced for local courts in Oaxaca. As they focus on the enforcement power of native judges and the preoccupations of a Zapotec legal system, these documents provide some insight into the production of indigenous justice in the region. But we should note that Yannakakis and Schrader-Kniffki do not view these texts as windows into colonial society but rather as archival remnants that relate knowledge production to institutional authority.
By linking the historiography of religious translation to the jurisdictional approach to early modern legal history, the authors develop a unique methodology that allows them to analyze the performances enacted by indigenous judges, Spanish legal authorities, and individuals within the indigenous communities who came before both. By moving between the language of evangelization and judicial proceedings, the authors “trace how notions of crime and punishment acquired meaning that cohered across cultural, institutional, and jurisdictional settings, thereby rooting the law in its social context.”
The judges who produced the documents for each case were politically astute operators who used both Spanish and Zapotec discursive traditions to arrive at arguments that would have salience in the legal sphere. Thus the records combine “orality, polyphony, and notarial discourse,” the first two emanating from Zapotec, the last coming from Spanish traditions. The 1661 case against Juan Ramos (for concubinage), for example, has various elements in which we can read multiple voices in seeming dialogue, and it refers to an ancient Zapotec past. The case is registered as a notarial case, and its conclusions have political importance (Ramos is not permitted to hold office) for the contemporary Zapotec community. The judges also forward the case to the local Spanish magistrate, using the Spanish legal system to uphold indigenous justice. Another cacique, don Pablo de Vargas, in 1687 uses the record of the same case to defend himself against charges of absconding with community funds. Indigenous nobles and judges were able to use the rules of Christianity and the Spanish legal system in a creative manner.
Yannakakis and Schrader-Kniffki also note that reference to an ancient Zapotec past is tied to the use of Zapotec traditions, which could be cited either positively or negatively, in catechistic texts. Their close readings of the translations in such texts allow Yannakakis and Schrader-Kniffki to reflect on the ways that the judges use both Christian and Zapotec traditions to produce knowledge and develop authority. In the case of concubinage, for example, the native judges cite Christian traditions in order to criminalize Zapotec polygamy. In each case cited, the native judges use the concept of an “old law” as a contrast to the new, in effect criminalizing the old. The judges were experts at legal innovation, and they were able to take advantage of Christianity and the Spanish legal system to settle Zapotec political disputes. They thus presented themselves as loyal subjects of the new law of Christian propriety.
The articles in the present special issue together constitute a reimagining of colonial Latin American history. By developing innovative interdisciplinary methodologies, the authors present colonial Latin American history as a dynamic and changing field that challenges staid notions of colonized bodies and subjectivities.
pete sigal, Duke University