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Beyond Babel
Translations of Blackness in Colonial Peru and New Granada


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Part of Afro-Latin America

  • Date Published: January 2022
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108730303

£ 22.99

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About the Authors
  • In seventeenth-century Spanish America, black linguistic interpreters and spiritual intermediaries played key roles in the production of writings about black men and women. Focusing on the African diaspora in Peru and the southern continental Caribbean, Larissa Brewer-García uncovers long-ignored or lost archival materials describing the experiences of black Christians in the transatlantic slave trade and the colonial societies where they arrived. Brewer-García's analysis of these materials shows that black intermediaries bridged divisions among the populations implicated in the slave trade, exerting influence over colonial Spanish American writings and emerging racial hierarchies in the Atlantic world. The translated portrayals of blackness composed by these intermediaries stood in stark contrast to the pejorative stereotypes common in literary and legal texts of the period. Brewer-García reconstructs the context of those translations and traces the contours and consequences of their notions of blackness, which were characterized by physical beauty and spiritual virtue.

    • Offers a strong counter-narrative to the emergence of racism and racial hierarchy in the period by outlining the emergence of a discourse of blackness as an attribute of beauty, virtue, and holiness
    • Focuses on two major cities in seventeenth-century Spanish America: Cartagena de Indias and Lima
    • Brings several notable documents to light for the first time, including first-person accounts by Afro-latino subjects and text such as the 1629 Oraciones traducidas en la lengua del Reino de Angola
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    • Winner, 2020 Flora Tristán Prize for Best Book, Peru Section – Latin American Studies Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Just a generation ago, scholars acknowledged the first sightings of blacks in the Spanish American archives. By making Africans and their descendants legible and audible in ways that just recently were inconceivable, Beyond Babel transforms our historical imagination. Brewer-García's foundational contribution to this dynamic field of study is remarkable.' Herman L. Bennett, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

    'In this scrupulously researched and rigorously argued book, Brewer-García releases from archival obscurity and historiographical neglect the voice of Afro-Latin American men and women, demonstrating their role as vital thinkers and authors of the early modern era. Her close, historically grounded analysis of texts featuring black thought in colonial Lima and Cartagena offers a powerful revision of the definition and meaning of blackness in slavery-era South America, and the early modern world at large.' Cécile Fromont, Yale University and author of The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo

    'Beyond Babel is a beautifully rendered account of black intermediaries who made Catholic conversion among enslaved peoples possible. Brewer-García reveals the multivalent meanings of religious virtue and black sainthood among enslaved Africans in the Americas as the religious mandate of the Catholic Kings assumed primacy in the legitimation of enslavement and settlement. Deeply researched and clearly written, Beyond Babel will influence the fields of race, religion, diaspora, and identity in the early modern world.' Michelle McKinley, University of Oregon and author of Fractional Freedoms: Slavery, Intimacy, and Legal Mobilization in Colonial Lima

    'In this carefully researched, accessible, well-organized study, Brewer-Garcia (Latin American literature, Univ. of Chicago) explores the influences that Black men and women had on the production of written texts in 16th- and 17th-century Lima (Peru) and Cartagena (Colombia) … her greatest contribution is bringing long-ignored archival materials documenting the experiences of Black Christians (e.g., Oraciones traducidas en la lengua del Reino de Angola, 1629) to the attention of a wider scholarly audience.' S. D. Glazier, Choice

    'It is a well-researched book that convincingly shows how Black inter-preters were able to carve a space of authority for themselves … Beyond Babel is an excellent example of how to uncover the life story and agency of those groups and individuals … the book will be most interesting for its keen reading of key Jesuit texts.' Andrés I. Prieto, Journal of Jesuit Studies

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2022
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108730303
    • length: 319 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.49kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: Linguistic and Spiritual Mediations in the Earlier
    Black Atlantic
    1. Black Types between Renaissance Humanism and Iberian Counter Reformation Theology
    2. The Transatlantic Slave Trade and Spanish American Missionary Translation Policy
    3. The Mediations of Black Interpreters in Colonial Cartagena de Indias
    4. Conversion and the Making of Blackness in Colonial Cartagena de Indias
    5. Salvation and the Making Blackness in Colonial Lima: Úrsula de Jesús.

  • Author

    Larissa Brewer-García, University of Chicago
    Larissa Brewer-García is an Assistant Professor of Latin American Literature at the University of Chicago.


    • Winner, 2020 Flora Tristán Prize for Best Book, Peru Section – Latin American Studies Association
    • Winner, 2021 Friedrich Katz Prize, American Historical Association

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