UCL Institute of the Americas


Lecture: Recognition as the Social Practice of Citizenship in Postemancipation Colombia

20 January 2016, 5:30 pm–7:00 pm

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UCL Institute of the Americas


UCL Institute of the Americas, 51 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PN

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Examining slave emancipation in Colombia in the 1850s and its aftermath offers numerous new ways to think about citizenship in former societies-with-slaves.  With only 17,000 souls in bondage at the end of legal slavery in 1852, the republic of New Granada (soon to be renamed Colombia) would appear at first glance to have experienced emancipation in a minor key in comparison to the great slavocracies of the Americas. On the contrary, a majority of New Granadans - who had little relationship to the remaining enslaved persons - embraced emancipation in order to push new and often radical demands for rights and standing. Final liberation made possible a civil equality and social ethos that shaped how citizens interacted with each other in public settings--in the streets, plazas, voting tables, workplaces, and church parishes. 

This study argues that beyond the legal fiats of abolition, citizens through everyday interactions gave shape to legal freedom as a fundamental aspect of their citizenship.  At the same time, the universal embrace of emancipation made it difficult for Colombians of African descent to make particular claims for recognition for their role in the struggle for freedom.     

Jason McGraw is Associate Professor of History at Indiana University, Bloomington.