2005, 2008, 2018
- Associate Professor
- Florida International University
Taking Tyrants to Court: Civil Litigation in Spain and Spanish America during the Age of Enlightenment
This study challenges assumptions about Latin America’s place in the history of the “West” by demonstrating that colonial Spanish America was an early theater for the Enlightenment and the dramatic erosion of traditional authority. A comparison of four types of civil litigation in Peru, Mexico, and Spain reveals that lawsuits against “proximate authority figures” rose vertiginously in the colonies at the end of the 1700s while they declined in Spain. Ordinary subjects such as women, slaves, and Indians used new legal concepts to sue husbands, masters, and native leaders. When they took these local “tyrants” to court, they discovered both the promises and the problems inherent in Enlightenment political ideals of popular sovereignty, natural rights, and citizenship.
Taking Tyrants to Court: Civil Litigation in the Spanish Empire during the Age of Enlightenment
This book is about the Enlightenment, but its protagonists are not European intellectuals. They are illiterate, poor or enslaved colonial subjects who sued their superiors in royal courts. Comparing four types of civil litigation in five regions of Spain’s empire, the book reveals that suits against “proximate authority figures” swelled during the late 1700s in the colonies rather than in the mother country. Close analysis of the suits women, slaves, and Indians brought against husbands, masters, and native leaders shows that colonial litigants invoked new concepts of rights, sovereignty, and equality, producing a colonial Enlightenment. Such findings encourage us to reconsider the place of the Spanish empire in traditional narratives of the West and to rethink the geography of modernity.
The Smallest Subject: Peru’s Youngest Mother in the World and the Rise of Modern Research Ethics
In 1939, Lina Medina delivered a healthy baby boy in Lima, Peru. She was five years old. “The Smallest Subject” is the first scholarly study of the girl still known as the youngest mother in the world. But this is not a simple history of Lina Medina. Sensitive to how she was objectified as well as protected by medical experts, state officials, curiosity-seekers, and the press, “The Smallest Subject” uses oral histories, newspaper reports, and medical studies focused on Lina herself and on the condition of precocious puberty to trace the uniquely transnational development of the conflicted, dual principles of autonomy and protection today enshrined in standard protocols for research with human subjects.