UCL Institute of the Americas


Indigenous Freedom Suits and Epistemological Possibilities

14 March 2023, 5:30 pm–7:00 pm

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An event part of the IHR Latin American History Seminar series

This event is free.

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Institute of Historical Research

This paper explores freedom petitions initiated by captive Indigenous slaves at different French, English, Spanish and Portuguese imperial sites during the early modern period. It approaches freedom suits as an archive and explores what this repository can and cannot tell us about agency, subjectivity, meanings of “freedom,” processes of manumission, and mobility of the self, whether inside or outside of a legal locus. It considers mobilizations toward freedom and redemption and how laws, legal procedure, and early modern notions of “rights” allow scholars access to knowledge-making about slavery lacking in other sources. The paper also interrogates how freedom suits carry an epistemological burden, as they tend to compensate for archival absences, silences, and erasures related to Indigenous slavery in the Americas.  

Nancy E. van Deusen is Principal Daniel R. Woolf Professor of Humanities at Queen’s University, and a historian of colonial Andean, Latin American, and early modern Atlantic World history. Her recent publications include Global Indios: The Indigenous Struggle for Justice in Sixteenth-Century Spain (Duke University Press, 2015), and Embodying the Sacred: Women Mystics in Seventeenth-Century Lima (Duke University Press, 2017). She now turns her attention again toward indigenous slavery. A five-year SSHRC Insight Grant will aid in the researching and drafting of “The Disappearance of the Past: Native American Slavery and the Making of the Early Modern World,” a book that will answer the question of why the ubiquitous practice of Native American slavery in the western hemisphere and beyond has disappeared from our narratives about the past. She takes an ethnographic approach to “slavery’s archive,” to show how erasures, re-inscriptions, and taxonomies have helped to create this monumental absence. She is the recipient of the 2019 Queen's University Excellence in Research Award. In recognition of her research achievements, Professor van Deusen was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2020.

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UCL Institute of the Americas is delighted to collaborate with the Institute of Historical Research (School of Advanced Study, University of London) and other leading institutions in the organisation of this series

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