Boundaries, Subjectivity, and Knowledge Production in Colonial Río de la Plata

Boundaries, Subjectivity, and Knowledge Production in Colonial Río de la Plata

127th Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association
New Orleans, Louisiana
2013-01-03 through 2013-01-06

Conference on Latin American History 65
Saturday, 2013-01-05: 14:30-16:30 CST (Local Time)
Ursuline Salon (Hotel Monteleone)

Chair: Shawn Michael Austin, University of New Mexico


Comment: Heidi Scott, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

In comparison to other regions of Latin America, colonization efforts in the Río de la Plata had a slow and difficult start. Indeed, it was not until the mid-sixteenth century that colonials began to establish themselves in permanent ways, seeking an exportable commodity—found in yerba mate—and by exploiting native labor. By around the turn of the seventeenth century, Franciscan and Jesuit priests stepped up their missionizing efforts, bringing to the region a greater interest in harvesting native souls. These missionaries competed with Portuguese bandeirantes, who entered into the area in search of indigenous labor. Nonetheless, the absence of mineral wealth and sedentary native populations made the region a colonial backwater for the next hundred years. But by the mid-eighteenth century, with the proliferation of cattle and other exportable goods, the region became a centerpiece for competing Spanish and Portuguese imperial projects and a hotbed for interethnic conflict.

The papers in this panel will examine topics embedded in this unusual historical trajectory. They will explain how native peoples dealt with and defined colonial institutions in the face of  Iberian ways of knowing and governing and will examine how knowledge production was at the crux of interethnic relations. The panelists will combine revisionism, novel methodologies, and unused sources to provide insight into the political, cultural, economic, and social lives in the region. Shawn Austin will propose that to understand the shape and functionality of the Spanish encomienda we must understand that native sexuality and notions of affinity are at the heart of that institution. Austin’s paper will reveal the stories and lives of Guaraní, African, and mixed-race individuals in a narrative style culled from litigation records. While Austin will focus on civil society, Kristin Huffine will explore the construction of Guaraní-Christian subject formation in the Jesuit missions through her analysis of visual cultures. Both Huffine and Austin will argue that cultural and social life in the region can only be elucidated through an understanding of native social and cultural contributions. Huffine will build upon existing scholarship on mission art by moving beyond simply recognizing Guaraní artisan labor to understanding how the Guaraní’s hands also shaped their identities, literally through their own artistic expressions. Jeffrey Erbig’s presentation will explore the production of imperial geographic knowledge by examining two eighteenth century Luso-Hispanic mapping expeditions. Erbig will show that as Iberian officials demarcated a linear divide between their South American kingdoms, they depended upon native peoples for both labor and knowledge. Nonetheless, these attempts to produce static territorial states ignored and conflicted with native land claims and territorialities. This panel brings together a variety of new approaches to the study of the Río de la Plata that promise to promote lively discussion and exchange.

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