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Fractional Freedoms
Slavery, Intimacy, and Legal Mobilization in Colonial Lima, 1600–1700

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Part of Studies in Legal History

  • Date Published: April 2018
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316620106

$ 30.99 (C)

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About the Authors
  • Fractional Freedoms explores how thousands of slaves in colonial Peru were able to secure their freedom, keep their families intact, negotiate lower self-purchase prices, and arrange transfers of ownership by filing legal claims. Through extensive archival research, Michelle A. McKinley excavates the experiences of enslaved women whose historical footprint is barely visible in the official record. She complicates the way we think about life under slavery and demonstrates the degree to which slaves were able to exercise their own agency, despite being ensnared by the Atlantic slave trade. Enslaved women are situated as legal actors who had overlapping identities as wives, mothers, mistresses, wet-nurses and day-wage domestics, and these experiences within the urban working environment are shown to condition their identities as slaves. Although the outcomes of their lawsuits varied, Fractional Freedoms demonstrates how enslaved women used channels of affection and intimacy to press for liberty and prevent the generational transmission of enslavement to their children.

    • Explores the experiences of urban slaves, particularly women, in colonial Lima and their attempts to improve their lot by litigation, through extensive archival research
    • Demonstrates the centrality of law and religion in the lives of urban slaves and their owners
    • Debunks the notion that slaves were 'socially dead' subjects, through a close reading of historical sources
    • Enriches recent work on gender, the diaspora, and the social and cultural history of slavery through its focus on women, children, and families over a lifespan and across generations
    Read more


    • Winner, 2017 Judy Ewell Award for Best Publication on Women's History, Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies

    Reviews & endorsements

    'This is, without a doubt, one of the richest, most complex and well-researched studies of urban slavery in colonial Latin America. McKinley brings acute legal knowledge, both of the content of law and of its performative practice, to a study of enslaved men and women. The archival wealth here, plus the author's ability to tell a compelling yarn, produce an engaging and scholarly tome.' Karen B. Graubart, University of Notre Dame

    'Michelle A. McKinley has written a book that embodies the richness of recent Latin American legal history and also transcends that literature. Fractional Freedoms is rooted in heroic work in recondite and intractable archives in Europe and in the Americas. It is shaped by an incredibly sophisticated historical imagination, and is also filled with really interesting and well told stories about the negotiations and the local lives of enslaved Africans in early modern Lima. There are surprises on every page. For anyone interested in the global history of slavery, which by rights should be every serious student of history, this is the state of the art.' Hendrik Hartog, Princeton University

    'This is a first-rate piece of original, archive-based scholarship. It is a meticulous and extremely thoughtful examination of women's lives under slavery in and around Lima, Peru, a part of the Americas few connect with this institution. What really sets this book manuscript apart is the author's razor-sharp understanding and clear explanation of the colonial legal system. This book is a fully accessible social history that … contributes substantially to the growing history of the African diaspora.' Kris Lane, Tulane University, Louisiana

    'Michelle McKinley’s Fractional Freedoms is an impressive contribution to this literature. Her careful analysis of previously underutilized ecclesiastical archives and her empathetic evocation of the slave experience should establish Fractional Freedoms as a model for future research.' Lyman Johnson, H-Law

    'McKinley’s extensive work with church documents complicates the existing scholarship on slaves as legal actors … a primer on the most prominent types of legal disputes involving slaves.' Emily Berquist Soule, Latin American Research Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2018
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316620106
    • length: 294 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.5kg
    • contains: 1 b/w illus. 4 maps 16 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Litigating liberty
    2. Conjugal chains
    3. Dangerous dependencies
    4. Freedom at the font
    5. Till death do us part
    6. Buyer beware
    7. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Michelle A. McKinley, University of Oregon
    Michelle A. McKinley is the Bernard B. Kliks Professor of Law at the University of Oregon Law School. She has published extensively on public international law, globalization, and legal history, particularly the law of slavery. McKinley has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, and the Newberry Library, and was fellow in residence at Princeton University's Law and Public Affairs program. She was awarded the Surrency Prize by the American Society for Legal History, and the Lidia Parra Jahn award for her article 'Illicit Intimacies'.


    • Winner, 2017 Judy Ewell Award for Best Publication on Women's History, Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies

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