Rape Narratives, Rape Silences: Sexual Violence and Judicial Testimony in Colonial Guatemala

By Komisaruk, Catherine | Biography, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Rape Narratives, Rape Silences: Sexual Violence and Judicial Testimony in Colonial Guatemala


Komisaruk, Catherine, Biography


One of the challenges for historians studying Latin American societies is that until recent generations, most of the population did not know how to write. There were of course literate circles in Ibero-America in past centuries, including people who kept government records and business correspondence, as well as those who wrote great works of fiction, drama, and poetry. But beyond the so-called "chroniclers" of the conquest era, few kept diaries or left memoirs. Traditional histories about colonial Latin America emphasized elite political concerns and financial affairs, while literary studies have focused heavily on the writings of European-born priests and travelers in what was, to them, a new world. In the second half of the twentieth century, though, a new set of historical concerns sent many researchers looking for alternative sources. The rise of social history and "the new cultural history"--that is, history of non-elite cultural forms--has changed the way Latin American history is studied by scholars in the region as well as those in the anglophone context. In the past generation, we have been seeking texts that would reveal the experiences and consciousness of a largely illiterate population.

One type of source that has proven especially fruitful in this project is judicial records. The Spanish colonial judicial system allowed people of all social statuses access to litigation, providing attorneys to represent the poor. The government employed notaries to serve as court reporters, transcribing oral testimonies in both the ecclesiastic and secular courts. In effect, the courts were collaborating with an otherwise somewhat disenfranchised population in the production of these recorded narratives. The collaboration created a form of experience-narrative by people who could not write--plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses who told their stories before the colonial magistrates and notaries. Because the purpose of judicial proceedings was essentially to substantiate or negate a given accusation, the judicial testimonies were meant to tell some specific experience or circumstances of the plaintiff, not to be an arc of the whole life. Yet the records of these experience-narratives often reveal remarkable details about the lives of non-literate subjects.

Thousands of such court records have been preserved in public archives in many parts of Spanish America. In recent years historians have begun to tap this body of documents for the narratives of individuals who left nothing in their own writing. Research in court records has become an important trend in current scholarship on colonial Spanish America.

Concurrently, the historiography on Latin America has seen a blossoming of studies on women, gender, and sexuality. Indeed, various kinds of judicial records have been a source of data for much of this scholarship, since the detailed depositions recorded in the Hispanic judicial systems reveal numerous aspects of society and daily life. (1) Given that court records inherently deal with conflicts, they are particularly rich with information about social transgressions. In contrast to legal codes and religious doctrinal writings, which convey ideologies and prescriptions for behavior, court records disclose some of the realities of people's actions. In fact, a growing body of historiography has focused on crime and social transgressions specifically. Part of this trend has been a stream of books on riots and rebellions--events that typically generated a spate of trial records when the rebels were caught. (2) A related stream has focused on gender and sexuality, using litigation records to analyze expectations and behaviors within marriage and sexual life. Marital violence, illicit unions, witchcraft, disputed betrothals, and prenuptial breakups have been highlighted in these studies. (3)

Despite these concurrent emphases on crime and sexuality, sexual violence has been very scarce in the scholarship on Latin American history. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Rape Narratives, Rape Silences: Sexual Violence and Judicial Testimony in Colonial Guatemala
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.