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Presented By: Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS)

Winter 2024 MEMS Lecture. Since Time Immemorial: Managing Difference through Custom from Medieval Iberia to Colonial Mexico

Yanna Yannakakis, Emory Univerisity

Photo of Professor Yanna Yannakakis Photo of Professor Yanna Yannakakis
Photo of Professor Yanna Yannakakis
My talk explores the relationship between custom and empire by connecting elite strategies for managing difference in medieval Iberia’s multi-confessional and multi-jurisdictional society to Spanish imperial strategies for governing an ethnically diverse and socially stratified Indigenous population in sixteenth-century colonial Mexico. While highlighting transatlantic connections, I point to custom’s distinct uses and outcomes in the context of colonial governance, especially the ways in which the concept of Indigenous custom reproduced Spanish notions of Native difference and inferiority and legitimized Spanish claims to Native labor. In doing so, I challenge long-held assumptions in the field of ethnohistory that Indigenous custom implied continuity with the pre-Hispanic past and was therefore antithetical to the Spanish imperial project. Through Native engagement with Spanish courts, Native and Spanish litigants and court officials adapted Indigenous custom – especially related to property and labor – to Spanish law and imperial objectives.

Bio: Yanna Yannakakis, Professor, Associate Department Chair, and Mentor Coordinator (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, B.A. Dartmouth College). Social and cultural history of colonial Latin America, history of Mexico, ethnohistory, history of legal systems, and the interaction of indigenous peoples and institutions in Mexico.

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