Robert C. Schwaller

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

Contact Info

Wescoe Hall, Room 3640
Office Hours: In Person
Mon. | 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Thurs.| 2:30 PM - 4:00 PM


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 and the experiences of Africans, their descendants, and indigenous peoples. My first book, Géneros de Gente in Early Colonial Mexico: Defining Racial Difference (Oklahoma University Press, 2016) explores the intellectual and social development of racial labels in early colonial Mexico. This study traces how late medieval Iberian notions of difference were transported across the Atlantic where they evolved into new socio-racial categories. Terms like españolindiomestizomulatonegro 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, the study juxtaposes these legal and intellectual frameworks of difference against 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 research on early colonial Mexico has shown that 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. My ongoing research builds from this project and focuses on the interaction between Africans and Native Americans in the early Atlantic World.

My current project tentatively entitled Maroon Conquests examines the earliest instances of marronage (slave flight) in Hispaniola, Panama, and Mexico. This study argues that marronage and the Spanish struggle against maroons should be considered integral to the prolonged and often incomplete process of Spanish conquest. Moreover, in many cases, maroons engaged in a unique form of conquest in which they established and defended autonomous communities in areas claimed by Spain. 


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

Selected Publications

Overlooked Places and Peoples: Indigenous and African Confrontations and Collaborations in the Spanish Empire. Dana Velasco Murillo and Robert Schwaller, editors. Routledge, 2024.

"The Spanish Conquest of Panama and the Creation of Maroon Landscapes, 1513-1590," in Overlooked Places and Peoples, Dana Velasco Murillo and Robert Schwaller, editors. Routledge, 2024.

African Maroons in Sixteenth-Century Panama: A History in Documents. University of Oklahoma Press, 2021.

"Creating Monstrosity in Colonial Spanish America" in Monsters and Borders in the Early Modern Imagination, Jana Byars and Hans Peter Broedel, editors. Routledge: New York (2018) pp. 19-34.

History of the World: Benzoni’s Historia del Mondo Nuovo. Penn State Press, 2017. Co-editor with Jana Byars.

Géneros de Gente in Early Colonial Mexico: Defining Racial Difference. University of Oklahoma Press, 2016.

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.