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Robert C. Schwaller

Assistant Professor
Primary office:
Wescoe Hall
Room 3631

Mexico, Central America, Caribbean; intellectual and social history of race; African Diaspora in Latin America; ethnohistory of Mesoamerica.


Research Profile:

My research focuses on the development of race in Latin America. My current book project, 'Géneros de Gente': Defining Difference in Early New Spain explores the intellectual and social development of racial labels in early colonial Mexico. This research traces how late medieval Iberian notions of difference were transported across the Atlantic where they evolved into new socio-racial categories. Terms like españolindio, mestizomulatonegro came to define and circumscribe individuals by mapping stereotypes on to phenotypical and somatic difference. In order to better understand the relevance of these categories, this study analyzes the social and cultural history of early mestizos and mulatos. Although these individuals suffered prejudice in early colonial society, during the sixteenth century the socio-racial order defined by Spaniards did not fully circumscribe individuals' ability to be economically or socially successful.

My ongoing research builds from this project and focuses on the interaction between Africans and Native Americans in the early Atlantic World. In particular, my research has shown that in early colonial Mexico Africans and indigenous people frequently formed families and communities. These positive interactions benefitted both groups and undermined the Spanish attempt to rigidly separate subaltern subjects.      

Recent Publications:

  • Guest Editor, A Language of Empire, a Quotidian Tongue: The Uses of Nahuatl in Colonial New Spain. Ethnohistory vol. 59, issue 4. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012.
  • “‘For Honor and Defense:’ Race and the Right to Bear Arms in Early Colonial Mexico,” Colonial Latin American Review vol. 21, no. 2, 239-266.
  • “‘Mulata, Hija de Negro y India:’ Afro-Indigenous Mulatos in Early Colonial Mexico,” Journal of Social History, vol. 44, no. 3, Spring 2011.

Teaching Profile:

Professor Schwaller is currently on the executive committee of the Latin American Area Studies Program. In 2012, he was recognized by the Center for Teaching Excellence as a Celebration of Teaching Honoree. His courses focus on the history of Latin America, specifically the colonial period and issues of race. Many of his courses examine the history of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Having lived many years in and around Latin America, Professor Schwaller enjoys introducing students to the varied peoples and cultures of this region.

Recent Courses:

  • HIST 120: Colonial Latin America
  • HIST 124/LAA 100: Latin American Culture and Society
  • HIST 368: A History of Afro-Latin America
  • HIST 575: History of Mexico
  • HIST 576: History of the Caribbean and Central America
  • HIST 808: Colloquium on Afro-Latin America

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