Race and Classification: The Case of Mexican America

By Ilona Katzew; Susan Deans-Smith | Go to book overview

3 “That This Should Be Published
and Again in the Age of the
Enlightenment?”
Eighteenth-Century Debates About the Indian
Body in Colonial Mexico

Ilona Katzew

DEBATES ABOUT THE NATURE OF AMERINDIANS have a long history that harks back to the beginning of Spanish colonization. Even though the Pope declared the Indians to be fully human in a Bull of 1537, and in the sixteenth century the Spanish crown determined that they were Christian neophytes who deserved its protection, discussions about their rational capabilities and their ability to become true Christians extended over the next three centuries.1 This essay addresses the debate about the origin, nature, and place of Amerindians in the eighteenth century. To understand the nuances and complexities of this debate, I first explain how many of these issues form part of a discursive continuum that began practically since colonization. Crucial in assessing the renewed fervency of the subject in the eighteenth century is to consider the different social groups or actors who generated the debates and their reasons for doing so. As we will see through the close reading of a number of texts (some unpublished and largely unknown), Spaniards, northern Protestant, Creoles, and the indigenous communities themselves, all had different interests at stake, and were largely responsible for producing and reproducing various epistemologies which have had an enduring effect until today. While most early descriptions about the Americas and its inhabitants were written by Spanish authors, in the eighteenth century a new trend emerged in Europe, whereby northern philosophers positioned themselves as the legitimate producers of New World narratives. Since the sixteenth century Spain had zealously guarded its American colonies, prohibiting official travel by foreigners. Spain's obsession with restricting access to information about the colonies and their administration was legendary. “Spain, with an excess

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