Synopses & Reviews
Asking readers to imagine a history of Mexico narrated through the experiences of Africans and their descendants, this book offers a radical reconfiguration of Latin American history. Using ecclesiastical and inquisitorial records, Herman L. Bennett frames the history of Mexico around the private lives and liberty that Catholicism engendered among enslaved Africans and free blacks, who became majority populations soon after the Spanish conquest. The resulting history of 17th-century Mexico brings forth tantalizing personal and family dramas, body politics, and stories of lost virtue and sullen honor. By focusing on these phenomena among peoples of African descent, rather than the conventional history of Mexico with the narrative of slavery to freedom figured in, Colonial Blackness presents the colonial drama in all its untidy detail.
What light is shed upon old topics when new sources are examined! In this major work on Afro-Mexican and, really, general Spanish American history, Bennett (CUNY) prowls through the neglected Mexican archival records dealing with marriages (matrimonios) and religious peccadilloes (bienes nacionales, inquisicion). Essentially ignoring the traditional topics of enslavement, labor laws, work discipline, and resistance, Bennett uncovers a vibrant black community developing its own customs and practices. The author focuses on the years 1622-1788, in the process covering the often-overlooked 17th century, in which New Spain had the largest collection of individuals of African descent in the New World. Bennett reveals a black society in which creolization took place rapidly, Christianization happened so fast that Afro-Mexicans accepted and manipulated with aplomb church regulations on marriage and family, and a community existed that could mobilize a legion of grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, neighbors, and godparents as witnesses for routine legal questions. In place of a weak, shattered individualistic society dealing with the so-called "social death" caused by slavery, Bennett's Afro-Mexicans were a community that soon counted a majority of freedmen living in an urban setting. What a contrast with the Afro-Cuban slave society evolving to the east in the Gulf of Mexico! Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic levels/libraries. -- ChoiceJ. A. Lewis, Western Carolina University, January 2010 Indiana University Press
"What light is shed upon old topics when new sources are examined! In this major work on Afro-Mexican and, really, general Spanish American history, Bennett prowls through the neglected Mexican archival records [and] uncovers a vibrant black community developing its own customs and practices.... In place of a weak, shattered individualistic society... Bennett's Afro-Mexicans were a community that soon counted a majority of freedman living in an urban setting. What a contract with the Afro-Cuban slave society evolving to the east.... Highly recommended." --Choice Indiana University Press
"Colonial Blackness makes a crucial contribution to the burgeoning literature on persons of African descent in Spanish America. Focusing on the "middle period" of colonial rule, Herman Bennett challenges us to rethink the cultural history of Afro-Mexicans in ways that go beyond deterministic frameworks of enslavement and oppression. This is an innovative work that will prove fascinating reading for anyone studying colonial Latin America or the African Diaspora." --Barbara Weinstein, New York University
"[T]his text, compelling and persuasive both in theoretical argumentation and use of primary sources, is a major achievement in understanding and reframing Afro-Mexican history. It is highly recommended for the sophisticated specialist already familiar with more conventional studies of Afro-Latin American history, and one who is also necessarily conversant with the terminology of postmodern and postcolonial studies." --Colonial Latin American Historical Review, Vol. 17.1, Winter 2008
"A fascinating study... Bennett... challenges mission historians to go beyond those generalizations that often marginalize people and to examine not only the written sources about such groups but also to examine their behavior, creatively using archival sources that are available." --Larry Nemer, Missiology
"Bennett challenges his readers to rethink the black experience in colonial Mexico.... He persuasively argues that exploitative labor systems, violence, and social hierarchy cannot, by themselves, define Afro-Mexican history; past studies... have flattened out and simplified our view of people of color, ignoring their private lives and their efforts at community formation. To put it another way, the slavery paradigm has overwhelmed alternate narratives of 'freedom' and 'blackness.' Bennett seeks to bring these hidden narratives to light." --Robert Douglas Cope, Brown University Indiana University Press
"A powerful piece of revisionist history." --Ben Vinson, Johns Hopkins University
"" --Bulletin of Latin American Research
About the Author
Herman L. Bennett is Professor of History at The Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity, and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570-1640 (IUP, 2003).
Table of Contents
List of Tables
Introduction: Writing Afro-Mexican History
1. Discipline and Culture
2. Genealogies to a Past
4. Provincial Black Life
5. Local Blackness
6. Narrating Freedom
Epilogue: Colonial Blackness?