(Brief) Research Statement

Over the past decade, historians of medieval Iberia and Colonial Latin America have slowly bridged an array of topics that had previously been separate. Where it previously made sense to differentiate between before and after the journey of Columbis in 1492, historians now stress the connections between those first generation of colonizers in America and the generations that had come before them. Marian devotion, enslavement practices, and legal plurality have all been the focal point of connective investigations in the last decade.

My research builds on these connections: using records of tribute and taxation from medieval Castile and New Spain, my questions focus on 1) the construction of identity in the late fourteenth to early seventeenth centuries, 2) how these identities were understood politically, and 3) how such political identities became the basis for economic and social organization. On the empirical level, my sources include the Libros de Repartimiento for Castile and Christian Al-Andalus, the probanzas of the first generation of Spanish conquistadors, the Books of Tributes that survive in Nahuatl, and general royal surveys like the Suma de Visitas (1548-1550) and the Relaciones Geographicas (1570s). These are supplemented by the typical array of chronicles, histories, and letters circulated through New Spain and the Iberian Peninsula throughout the sixteenth century, as well as debates in Castile over identity as found in declarations like the limpieza de sangre statutes from the mid-fifteenth century moving forward.

From a theoretical perspective, my main interest is historicizing the moments in which our own struggles with race and class drew their first formulations in order to expand our own political horizon. Activists, writers, and politicians often draw a certain foregrounded destiny when it comes to the “discovery” and “progress” of the Americas, but do not often have access to the methodologies required to fully comprehend the relationships between class and what Ètienne Balibar has termed the “anthropological differences” of gender, race, ability as it existed in the immediate aftermath of 1492. This is a problem of projection: many of our assumptions about these differences invoke modernist universalism: human rights, citizenship or democracy. Regardless of how good universalism is, these are not the tropes that exist in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. I instead evaluate the context in which terms like negro, moro, indio, or judío appear in order to write about the production of difference, and how such a production continued through the centuries.

I am skeptical of approaches that emphasize history as a purely intellectual pursuit, devoid of political implications (or perhaps that political implications should be ignored as outside the domain of the academic historian.) Against this, I often build my specific questions on the basis of explaining the world in which we reside today. I am presentist in the sense that a crucial historical interrogation of “modern,” and perhaps “modernity” itself, is essential to any historian working now. Destabilizing the sense that we, in this capitalist present, are somehow unique or have resolved the problems that preceded us should be a fundamental goal of any consciously active historian.

Advertisements