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Colonial Society

In this lecture and seminar, we will consider the concept of 'race' and how this concept was utilized to structure colonial society in Latin America. Building on Week 5, we will also discuss how concepts of race intersected with understandings of gender, religion and class in colonial society and some experiences of these intersections.


  • 'Race' has been described as a 'social construct' and a 'floating signifier'. Explain.
  • What role did race or caste play in structuring and maintaining social control in colonial Latin American society?
  • How did race intersect with gender, class and religion in colonial Latin American society? Provide examples.

Required Reading

To begin, spend some time exploring the PBS website 'Race: The Power of an Illusion' available here: Race: The Power of an Illusion. There are also short clips of the documentary produced as a part of this website available on YouTube. Here is part one: Race: The Power of an Illusion-Clip One.

Then please do the following readings. These will be discussed in the seminar:


Additional Readings

  • Bennett, Herman L. Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity, and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570-1640. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003)
  • Bethell, Leslie, ed., Cambridge History of Latin America, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), vols. 1-2, chapters by Peter Bakewell, Charles Gibson, and J.E. Elliott (available as E-book at library; some of these chapters are reproduced in Leslie Bethell, ed.,Colonial Spanish America, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1987).
  • Bethell, Leslie, ed., Colonial Brazil, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1987), chapters 2 and 3.
  • Burkholder, Mark, and Lyman Johnson, Colonial Latin America, Oxford University Press (New York, 2001), chapters 5-6, plus pp. 70-83, 108-116.
  • Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, eds. B. Trigger and W. Washburn, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1996), vol. III, section on South America, Part 2, and sections on Mexico and Central America, Part 2.
  • Cook. Karoline P. Forbidden Passages: Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).
  • Earle, Rebecca. "The Pleasures of Taxonomy: Casta Paintings, Classification, and Colonialism" The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 73, No. 3 (Jul, 2016), pp 427-466.
  • Keen, Benjamin, Latin American Civilization: History and Society, 1492 to the Present, Westview Press (Boulder, 1996), 6th edition, chapter 4: ‘The Economic Foundations of Colonial Life’, and 5: ‘State, Church and Society’ (or the equivalent chapters in a different edition).
  • Lockhart, James and Schwartz, Stuart, Early Latin America: a History of Colonial Spanish America and Brazil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), chapters 5, 8, 9
  • O’Toole, Rachel. “The Making of a Free Lucumí Household: Ana de la Calle’s Will and Goods, Northern Peruvian Coast, 1719,” in Afro-Latino Voices: Narratives from the Early Modern Iberian Atlantic World, eds. Kathryn McKnight and Leo Garofalo (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2009), 142-53.
  • Schwartz, Stuart. “The Manumission of Slaves in Colonial Brazil: Bahia, 1684-1745,” Hispanic American Historical Review, 54:4 (Nov 1974): 603-35.
  • Soares, Mariza. People of Faith: Slavery and African Catholics in Eighteenth-Century Rio de Janeiro. Duke University Press, 2011.
  • Sweet, James H. Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441-1770. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

    Thornton, John. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800. CUP, 1998 (2nd ed.)

Primary Source

  • Guaman Poma de Ayala, Felipe, “Appeal Concerning Priests,” from the New Chronicle and Treatise on Good Government, circa 1615, in Kenneth Mills and William Taylor, Colonial Spanish America: A Documentary History, SR Books (Wilmington, 1998), pp. 158-164.
  • Guaman Poma The Chronicle of Good Government