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Grant number like: FA-54094-08

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Bianca Premo
Florida International University Board of Trustees (Miami, FL 33199-2516)

Fellowships for University Teachers
Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
8/1/2008 – 7/31/2009

Challenging Authority Through Civil Litigation in Colonial Spanish America

This project breaks new ground by demonstrating that colonial Spanish America served as an early theater for the Enlightenment, particularly for new challenges to domestic and community authority. Focusing on shifts in the use of royal courts during the 1700s, it compares four types of civil litigation in five regions of Peru, Mexico, and Spain to reveal that lawsuits against "proximate authority figures" rose vertiginously where hierarchies were most rigid: the colonies. Ordinary subjects such as women, slaves and Indians used new legal concepts to sue husbands, masters, and native leaders. Quantitative analysis of the cases combined with a close textual reading of the arguments in these suits demonstrates that, in suing local "tyrants," subaltern litigants enacted new political concepts of equality, sovereignty, and natural rights. In short, they produced a colonial Enlightenment. Such a discovery forces us to rethink both the meaning of Enlightenment and the geography of modernity.