Public Talk: Bestiality and the Human/Animal Boundary in New Spain
Zeb Tortorici (New York University)
This talk interrogates the many ways that humans and animals interacted physically, theologically, and metaphorically in relation to the question of desire. I demonstrate how the natural/unnatural dichotomy—so salient a category in Spanish religious doctrine—interacts with other binary categories like human/animal and sodomy/reproductive sex. This talk also seeks to “center animals” by focusing, to the extent that it is possible, on non-human animal subjectivities. In contrast to their human counterparts, the European domesticated animals—donkeys, mares, goats, dogs, and hens—that criminal courts implicated in the crime of bestiality were regularly put to death by secular courts, so as to “erase the memory of such acts.” Using a corpus of 108 criminal bestiality cases and 25 Inquisition denunciations from New Spain (between the years of 1530 and 1821), this chapter delves into the rural nature of a crime that legal records document far more frequently than the other "sins against nature" of sodomy, same-sex solicitation, and masturbation. Ultimately, this paper shows that the human/animal boundary was never absolute, and that the physical, ideological, and metaphorical crossings rendered nature and the category of the unnatural—and that of the “human”—paradoxical, ambiguous, and riddled with inconsistencies.
Killing Locusts in Colonial Guatemala
Martha Few (University of Arizona)
During three-plus centuries of Spanish colonial rule, locusts, by periodically joining to creating mass stream ways and traveling hundreds of miles, played a significant role in the history of colonial Guatemala. The devouring insect swarms repeatedly consumed and transformed the landscape of the Audiencia of Guatemala, a geographic area that roughly comprises what is today southern Mexico and the nation-states of Central America, and that was the site of Mesoamerican civilizations that included the Maya. Yet for the most part, scholars have focused on insects such as locusts only in supporting roles in a greater narrative describing the history of agriculture and public health. Accounts of locust infestations written by political officials, priests, farmers, Maya elites, and European travellers reveal that ways that those living in the Audiencia considered locusts to be significantly embedded in a wide range of colonial economic, political, and religious processes, processes that historians have deemed central to research on the history colonialism in Latin America.
About the Speakers
Zeb Tortorici is Assistant Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University. He received his Ph.D. in History from UCLA, and has published articles in Ethnohistory, the Journal of the History of Sexuality, History Compass, e-misférica, and has an article forthcoming in GLQ. He has chapters in the edited volumes Death and Dying in Colonial Spanish America and Queer Youth Cultures. With Martha Few, he recently co-edited Centering Animals in Latin American History (Duke University Press, 2013). With Daniel Marshall and Kevin Murphy, he is currently co-editing two special issues of Radical History Review on the topic of “queering archives,” and with Pete Sigal and Erika Robb Larkins, he is co-editing Ethnopornography: Sexuality, Colonialism, and Anthropological Knowing.
Martha Few is Associate Professor of colonial Latin American history at the University of Arizona, Tucson. She is author of Women Who Live Evil Lives: Gender, Religion, and the Politics of Power in Colonial Guatemala (2002) and, with Zeb Tortorici, Centering Animals in Latin American History (2013). Prof. Few has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and has held research fellowships at the Newberry Library, the John Carter Brown Library, and the Huntington Library. She is currently finishing a new book, Signs of Life: Mesoamerican and Colonial Medicine in Enlightenment Guatemala.