Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Premo on ordinary litigants in the Spanish Empire

Bianca Premo, Florida International University has published The Enlightenment on Trial: Ordinary Litigants and Colonialism in the Spanish Empire with Oxford University Press. From the publisher:
Product DetailsThis is a history of the Enlightenment--the rights-oriented, formalist, secularizing, freedom-inspired eighteenth-century movement that defined modern Western law. But rather than members of a cosmopolitan Republic of Letters, its principal protagonists are non-literate, poor, and enslaved litigants who sued their superiors in the royal courts of Spain's American colonies. 
Despite growing evidence of the Hispanic world's contributions to Enlightenment science, the writing of history, and statecraft, the region is conventionally believed to have taken an alternate route to modernity. This book grapples with the contradiction between this legacy and eighteenth-century Spanish Americans' active production of concepts fundamental to modern law. The Enlightenment on Trial offers readers new insight into how Spanish imperial subjects created legal documents, fresh interpretations of the intellectual transformations and legal reform policies of the period, and comparative analysis of the volume of civil suits from six regions in Mexico, Peru and Spain.
Ordinary litigants in the colonies--far more often than peninsular Spaniards--sued superiors at an accelerating pace in the second half of the eighteenth century. Three types of cases increased even faster than a stunning general rise of civil suits in the colonies: those that slaves, native peasants and women initiated against masters, native leaders and husbands. As they entered court, these litigants advanced a new law-centered culture distinct from the casuistic, justice-oriented legal culture of the early modern period. And they did so at precisely the same time that a few bright minds of Europe enshrined new ideas in print. The conclusion considers why, if this is so, the Spanish empire has remained marginal to the story of the advent of the modern West.
Praise for the book:

"The best books reveal truths we didn't know and make them seem obvious. Bianca Premo's masterfully researched and beautifully written book shows how ordinary men and women shaped Atlantic legal culture as they sued more powerful adversaries. The result is required reading for anyone interested in law and empire, the Americas in world history, and new approaches to the history of ideas."-Lauren Benton

"In Spain, legal culture privileged extralegal solutions to communal conflict, promoting the informal mediation of the powerful within and therefore reinforcing a patriarchal ancien-regime. Not in the New World. Bianca Premo marshals overwhelming empirical evidence to show that subordinates in Spanish America regularly took social superiors to court: wives husbands, Indian commoners caciques, slaves masters. This is social history of the law at its best that untethers the Enlightenment from its traditional, parochial European moorings. To understand Enlightenment, go to Peru, don't read Voltaire."-Jorge Canizares-Esguerra

"Combining prodigious archival research with sterling prose, this book centers unlettered Latin Americans' contributions to the Enlightenment. In challenging a timeworn narrative, Premo makes signal contributions to histories of slavery, women, and indigenous peoples. A towering achievement."-Pamela Voekel

Further information is available here.

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