From Colony to Republic: The Social History of Law in 19th-Century Latin America

Fri 21 - Sat 22 Oct 2022

Online and in person
Illustration of a 19th-century Mexican woman kneeling before a seated man who is writing with a feather quill with a dog beside him
University of Oxford and online

Event ended

British Academy Conferences bring together scholars and specialists from around the world to consider and evaluate new research in the humanities and social sciences.

This conference examines how ordinary people responded to the transformation of Latin America’s systems of justice following the end of the colonial period. In the decades following Latin American independence the region embarked on a veritable legal revolution. In this period, Latin American lawmakers eliminated the differences between social groups that had defined the colonial legal order. They abolished slavery. They designed procedural rules to guarantee the equal treatment of all litigants and they dramatically improved the accessibility of the law, building courts and appointing justices of the peace in areas whose residents had previously had little contact with formal judicial institutions.

Scholars have done much to illuminate the intellectual history of that legal revolution. But they have neglected to study the impact of legal change on society in 19th-century Latin America, treating republican law largely as touching the lives of popular sectors only as a disruptive, punitive imposition. This conference, by contrast, explores how ordinary people engaged with and used republican law. It invites scholars to consider how Latin America’s post-colonial legal revolution remade not only the paper worlds of men of letters but the world of ideas, interests, and ambitions of the region's non-elite majorities.

Conference Convenor:
Timo Schaefer, University of Edinburgh

On the evening before the conference there will be an opening keynote address.

Keynote Address: Thursday 20 October, 17:00 - 18.30

Manuel Palacio
(Universidad de San Martín, Argentina), Towards a History of Labour Law in Post-Colonial Latin America


Day 1

Session 1: Labour-Law in Post-Colonial Latin America

11 am – 1 pm, Latin American Centre Main Seminar Room, 1 Church Walk

Andre Jockyman (University of Oxford)
Anti-Vagrancy Laws and Forced Labor in Post-Colonial Brazil, 1824-1840

Casey Lurtz (John Hopkins University)
Debt Peonage in Post-Colonial Mexico, Central America, and Peru

María Luisa Soux (Universidad Mayor de San Andrés)
Service Tenantry and Republican Law in Post-Colonial Bolivia

Session 2: From Colony to Republic

3 pm – 5 pm, History Faculty Lecture Theatre, 41-47 George Street

Bianca Premo (Florida International University)
Civil Lawsuits in the Late Colony

Sarah Chambers (University of Minnesota)
Civil Law and Property Confiscation during the Wars of Independence

Tomás Straka (Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, Venezuela)
The Meaning of Race in Venezuela between Colony and Republic

Reuben Zahler (University of Oregon, USA)
Women and the Law in Colonial and Republican Venezuela

Day 2

Session 3: Plebeian, Slave, and Women Litigants in Post-Colonial Latin America

10 am – 12 pm, Latin American Centre Main Seminar Room, 1 Church Walk

Yesenia Barragan (Rutgers University)
Poor Slave Masters as Litigants in Gradual-Emancipation Suits in Colombia

Cassia Roth (University of Georgia)
Enslaved Mothers as Litigants in Post-Colonial Brazil

Ángela Pérez-Villa (Western Michigan University)
Battered Women as Litigants in Colombia, 1825-1830

Natalia Sobrevilla (University of Kent)
Soldiers as Litigants in Post-Colonial Peru

Session 4: Indigenous People and Republican Law

2 pm – 4 pm, Latin American Centre Main Seminar Room, 1 Church Walk

Helga Baitenmann (University of London)
The Privatization of Indigenous Land in Nineteenth-Century Michoacán, Mexico

Daniela Marino (Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historía, Mexico)
Changes in Indigenous Property Rights in Post-Colonial Mexico

Cecilia Méndez (University of California Santa Barbara)
The Emergence of an ‘Indigenous-Rights’ Discourse in Nineteenth-Century Peru

Tristan Platt (University of St. Andrews)
Republican Law and Indigenous Land in Post-Colonial Bolivia

Commentaries and Final Reflections

5 - 7pm, Latin American Centre Main Seminar Room, 1 Church Walk

Fernanda Pirie (University of Oxford)

Alan Knight (University of Oxford)

Participants Final Reflections

Book tickets online. When booking, you have a choice of an online or in-person ticket.

All events are staged in line with the government’s COVID-19 guidelines and our venue’s COVID-19 guidelines. Measures are subject to change in accordance with government guidance; attendees will be notified of any changes prior to their visit. If you have any questions about this event please refer to our public events FAQs or email [email protected]

Funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Latin American Centre and from the History Faculty at the University of Oxford

Image: Claudio Linati (1790–1832), Costumes Mexicains. Ecrivain public, sur la grand' place á Mexico, 1828. Reproduced with permission from Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 1985.31.9

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