The Pleasures of Taxonomy: Casta Paintings, Classification, and Colonialism

Posted in Articles, Arts, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2016-08-22 23:59Z by Steven

The Pleasures of Taxonomy: Casta Paintings, Classification, and Colonialism

The William and Mary Quarterly
Volume 73, Number 3, July 2016, 3rd series
pages 427-466

Rebecca Earle, Professor
School of Comparative American Studies
University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom

A new model for thinking about the socioracial categories depicted in casta paintings (remarkable eighteenth-century Spanish American images representing the outcome of “racial mixing”) takes seriously both their fluidity and their genealogical character. Approaching classification, and casta paintings, from this direction clarifies the underlying epistemologies that structured colonial society and helps connect the paintings more explicitly to the debates about human difference that captivated Enlightenment thinkers. Ultimately, however, these paintings were produced and collected in the hundreds not simply because they visualized Atlantic debates about classification and human difference but because these visualizations were interesting and pleasant to contemplate. They agreeably roused the pleasures of the imagination via their taxonomic as well as their narrative power. Linking casta paintings to the importance accorded to pleasure in both the scientific and the colonial imagination helps explain their fascination, which derived from their ability to condense the complex interconnections of classification, colonialism, and sexuality into appealing images.

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“The Christened Mulatresses”: Euro-African Families in a Slave-Trading Town

Posted in Africa, Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Women on 2015-01-12 21:13Z by Steven

“The Christened Mulatresses”: Euro-African Families in a Slave-Trading Town

The William and Mary Quarterly
Volume 70, Number 2, April 2013
pages 371-398
DOI: 10.5309/willmaryquar.70.2.0371

Pernille Ipsen, Assistant Professor
Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, Department of History
University of Wisconsin, Madison

“MULATRESSE Lene”—or Lene Kühberg, as she is also called in the Danish sources—grew up and lived in a social world created by the Atlantic slave trade. Her name suggests that she was a daughter of slave traders—a Ga woman and a Danish man—and in the 1760s she was cassaret (married) to Danish interim governor and slave trader Frantz Joachim Kühberg. She lived in a European-style stone house in Osu (today a neighborhood in Accra) on the Gold Coast, and she was both racially and culturally Euro-African. The color of her skin and her name alone would have made it clear to everyone who met her that she was related to Europeans, but her clothes would also have marked her difference, and she may even have worn little bells and ornamental keys to show her heritage and connections. European travel writers described how Euro-African women on the Gold Coast who wore such little bells jingled so much that they could be heard at a great distance. Through their Euro-African heritage and marriages to European men, Euro-African women such as Lene Kühberg occupied a particular and important position as intermediaries in the West African slave trade.

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American Chiaroscuro: The Status and Definition of Mulattoes in the British Colonies

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-02-10 01:03Z by Steven

American Chiaroscuro: The Status and Definition of Mulattoes in the British Colonies

The William and Mary Quarterly
Third Series, Volume 19, Number 2 (April, 1962)
pages 183-200

Winthrop D. Jordan (1931-2007)

The word mulatto is not frequently used in the United States. Americans generally reserve it for biological contexts, because for social purposes a mulatto is termed a Negro. Americans lump together both socially and legally all persons with perceptible admixture of Negro ancestry, thus making social definition without reference to genetic logic; white blood becomes socially advantageous only in overwhelming proportion. The dynamic underlying the peculiar bifurcation of American society into only two color groups can perhaps be better understood if some attempt is made to describe its origin, for the content of social definitions may remain long after the impulses to their formation have gone.

After only one generation of European experience in America, colonists faced the problem of dealing with racially mixed offspring, a problem handled rather differently by the several nations involved. It is well known that the Latin countries, especially Portugal and Spain, rapidly developed a social hierarchy structured according to degrees of intermixture of Negro and European blood, complete with a complicated system of terminology to facilitate definition. The English in Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, on the other hand, seem to have created no such system of ranking. To explain this difference merely by comparing the different cultural backgrounds involved is to risk extending generalizations far beyond possible factual support. Study is still needed of the specific factors affecting each nation’s colonies, for there is evidence with some nations that the same cultural heritage was spent in different ways by the colonial heirs,..

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