Article

The Black Experience in Colonial Latin America

Ben Vinson

in Latin American Studies

ISBN: 9780199766581
Published online October 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0038
The Black Experience in Colonial Latin America

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Between the 1490s and the 1850s, Latin America, including the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and Brazil, imported the largest number of African slaves to the New World, generating the single-greatest concentration of black populations outside of the African continent. This pivotal moment in the transfer of African peoples was also a transformational time during which the interrelationships among blacks, Native Americans, and whites produced the essential cultural and demographic framework that would define the region for centuries. What distinguishes colonial Latin America from other places in the Western hemisphere is the degree to which the black experience was defined not just by slavery but by freedom. In the late 18th century, over a million blacks and mulattoes in the region were freedmen and women, exercising a tremendously wide variety of roles in their respective societies. Even within the framework of slavery, Latin America presents a special case. Particularly on the mainland, the forces of the market economy, the design of social hierarchies, the impact of Iberian legal codes, the influence of Catholicism, the demographic impact of Native Americans, and the presence of a substantial mixed-race population provided a context for slavery that would dictate a different course for black life than elsewhere. Thanks to the ways in which modern archives have been configured since the 19th century, and the nationalistic framework within which much research has been produced in the 20th and early 21st centuries, the vast literature examining Latin America’s black colonial past focuses upon geographic areas that correspond roughly to current national and regional borders. This is a partial distortion of the reality of the colonial world, where colonies were organized rather differently than what we see today. However, there are a number of valid reasons for adhering to a nationalist-centered framework in the organization of this bibliography, not the least of which is being able to provide crucial background material for exploring how black populations contributed to the development of certain nation-states, as well as for understanding how blacks may have benefited from, or been hurt by, the break between the colonial and nationalist regimes. Overall, the body of literature surveyed here speaks to several scholarly trends that have marked the 20th and early 21st centuries—the rise of the comparative slavery school, scholarship on black identity, queries into the nature of the African diaspora, assessments of the power wielded by marginalized populations, racial formation processes, creolization, and examinations of the sociocultural structures that governed colonial and early national life.

Article.  19080 words. 

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies ; History of the Americas

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