"Change". Momentum of its own in pre-modern Latin America

"Change". Momentum of its own in pre-modern Latin America

Franz-Josef Arlinghaus, Universität Bielefeld; Eleonora Rohland, Universität Bielefeld; Andreas Rüther, Universität Bielefeld
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
19.10.2023 - 20.10.2023
Anna-Lea Gisela Krampe / Nikita Malinovskii / Moritz Julian Schädler, Fakultät für Geschichtswissenschaft, Universität Bielefeld

The conference explored the question of the extent to which inherent dynamics (‘Eigendynamik’) can explain social changes in pre-modern Latin-American societies. The idea of Eigendynamik is that processes drive change out of themselves, without affecting the underlying structures of societies. With momentum of its own the conference mobilizes a widely discussed, theoretical, sociological concept which was initially developed in the context of Western modernity. However, it has experienced little reception in the pre-modern era in- or outside of Europe so far. In the past the organizers, together with other historians, literary scholars and sociologists, have already historicized and applied the concept to various regions of the world in the pre-modern era. In the context of Bielefeld University, pre-modernity means the combination of the classical epochs the Middle Ages and the early modern period due to the structural similarities within Europe. So, the question arose whether the concept of momentum of its own can be applied in the Americas as well.

In their introduction Franz-Josef Arlinghaus, Eleonora Rohland and Andreas Rüther (all Bielefeld) explained the theorization of change, which has to be historized in a second step due to differences of pre-modern and modern societies. They have defined momentum of its own as well, following the definition of Renate Mayntz and Birgitta Nedelmann. As a result and in adapting the concept to premodern societies, they proposed three characteristics of pre-modern societies, which are (1) estate based hierarchical order and group formation, (2) culture of presence and (3) consensus orientation.

Their claim with this conference was the resolution of the eurocentric perspective that underlies the theory of Eigendynamik and the transfer in a western-critic approach. So that continuities and similarities of pre- and post-Columbian civilizations are not being overstressed by applying this paradigm. Therefore, it is necessary to adapt the epoch classification for the Latin-American context; the terminology of pre-modern Latin America implies a western understanding of modernities, which cannot be directly adapted to non-western regions in the world. It is important to highlight that this geographical term refers to regions located in both North and South America. With these preconditions the participants developed their papers.

RICHARD HERZOG (Marburg) focused on the strategies and narratives of Tlaxcalan, which were constructed by elites of Tlaxcalan at the time of Spanish colonization in both written and visual forms. These narratives claimed that Tlaxcalan elites had a special status since they were not conquered either by their local political rivals (Mexicas) or by the Europeans, with whom they formed a swift alliance. Herzog spoke in detail about the management system of the Spaniards, who used the help of local allies. Due to the fact that the Spaniards gained stronger control over the conquered territories at the end of the 16th century, they started granting certain rights to their allies. Such a system allowed Tlaxcalans to use certain political strategies. He proposed to consider this joint management structure at three levels: (1) Tlaxcala had its own city council, which dealt with local problems, (2) the Tlaxcalan elites, who formed the city council, were allowed to come to the capital of the colonial government, Tenochtitlan, and bring their petitions, (3) local elites from Spanish colonies had the right to come to Spain to the royal court in Madrid to hand over their petitions to the king – the head of the state and the responsible man for the transatlantic population.

Comparing the colonial Spanish Americas and the Philippines, SARAH ALBIEZ-WIECK (Münster) presented the relevance of the fiscal taxing systems for the understanding of social differentiation in these regions. This became visible through the concept of 'Calidad', which consists of a complex interplay of ancestry, reputation, “(im)purity of blood” (limpieza de sangre), religion, legal and fiscal statuses. These systems differentiated around ten social positions within the Philippine and Spanish colonial societies. The so-called “purity of blood”, which was invented by the Spaniards in the context of the reconquest and forced conversions of Jews and Moors was central for these categorizations. These established social hierarchies in Nueva España, the Philippines and Peru can be explained through momentum of its own, as besides the hierarchies the culture of presence plays a partially important role in the colonies. Nevertheless, there was also colonial administration from the other side of the sea. Furthermore, consensus orientation is visible as well, but more in the way of "se obedece pero no se cumple" (I obey, but I do not comply).

THOMAS WELLER (Mainz) pointed out that the Spanish crown and its institutions had a clear vision of how a well-ordered colonial society should look like. Yet, the social consequences of distant rule and mobility between the Spanish metropolis and 16th-century colonial Latin America imposed difficulties on this ideal. By the example of the province of Esmaraldas in today's northern Ecuador, Weller described local leaders´ acceptance of Spanish overrule as highly ambiguous, despite the underlying consensus orientation.

In this remote region of the Spanish Empire, the rulers, fugitive slaves of African descent, could maintain a considerable scope of action, since, vice versa, their status was confirmed by colonial authorities.

Therefore, in addition to the three characteristics of Eigendynamik proposed by the organizers, Weller suggested 'tolerance for ambiguity' as another relevant category. But even in regions with a stronger presence of Spanish colonizers, cooperation with indigenous people took place. For Turmequé, situated in present-day Columbia, and its cacique, who was a descendant of a Spanish colonizer and a local noblewoman, a so-called mestizo, even greater opportunities arose to negotiate with Spanish authorities therefore even multiple travels to Spain were required.

VALERIA LOPEZ-FADUL (Middletown) reconstructed how 16th-century scholars thought about change instead of re-applying modern models of change to the pre-modern world. In the first place, the Spaniards engaged with etymology and thereby questioned the knowledge of indigenous experts. And thus, Spanish scholars proposed that by observing linguistic mutations one could understand the basic transformations that societies had endured both in European and Latin-American pasts. The examples Lopez-Fadul gave can be summarized as the diachronic understanding of languages in the Americas which was shared by Spanish writers and which was limited but yet influential. Furthermore, she stressed the importance of languages and their changes for political organization. However, multiple, partially conflicting concepts of language existed. Nonetheless, Lopez-Fadul highlighted that the perception of societal change by contemporary Spanish and indigenous scholars became partially visible through language.

Contextualizing Mesoamerica as the fourth-oldest world region with evolved writing systems, ROSA ROSALES (Guadalajara) emphasized this development and spread as a consensus by several groups, each of them speaking different languages. For both the pre-Hispanic as well as the colonial age, Rosales suggested to perceive the usage of the systems, which emerged around 700 B.C.E. in what is today south-east Mexico, as a social practice. With regards to both writing and reading, it allowed for collective education and the transmission of history and knowledge. With the arrival of alphabetic writing in Mesoamerica in 1521, the written space was increasingly shared together with the existing logographic systems. While indigenous scribes and notaries were trained in reading and writing the alphabetical system and then accompanied friars as interpreters, Mesoamerican genres of texts disappeared successively. The genres that originated out of this newly acquired literacy were legal documents, such as petitions, denunciations or procurations, providing new social functions within the rules the colonial regime had established. Nonetheless, alphabetic reading did not remain in people´s memory and was not a shared practice.

Turning to Brazil in the 18th and 19th centuries, JORUN POETTERING (Hamburg/Rostock) investigated the astonishing transition from slavery to citizenship in the then capital Rio de Janeiro. She suggested that this development was influenced by a socialization process with a momentum of its own. In a long-term development, the slaves and their descendants became citizens of a 'modern' state in Latin America. However, this was neither intended by the slaves, who did not want to become citizens, nor by the slave holders. It is at this point that the momentum of its own of the process takes hold, as the development from slavery to citizenship developed through an open and flexible social structure, a pronounced experience of absence, and a fundamental dissent between the Black population and the Portuguese-dominated society.

ELEONORA ROHLAND (Bielefeld) ended the discussion on momentum of its own by proposing the question, if Eigendynamik and entanglement are two not mutually compatible concepts or if it is possible to combine those two in order to make them usable. She showed the importance of external factors, which are not factored into momentum of its own, using two examples: First, she talked on the macro-level about 1492 and the Columbian Exchange, which can be explained as the depopulation through violence and environmental factors, which have led to the demand for more slavery and slave trade between Latin America, Europe and Africa and therefore had an influence on societal structures and change. Second, Rohland analyzed Hispaniola in the 16th century on the micro-level and assumed that environmental factors such as hurricanes led to a disaster culture, which brought about changes, whereby here too internal dynamics and external factors interacted.

In summary, the three structural characteristics can be identified as the driving force for change for different periods of the pre-modern era and in different Latin American regions, as became apparent in the participants' presentations. However, a broader comparison within Latin America between the 16th and 19th centuries and, in a second step, a comparison with other continents, such as Europe and East Asia, would be useful. This is because these regions have similar starting conditions, including with regard to literacy. A non-Eurocentric or post-colonial perspective is therefore of enormous importance for this global comparison.

Recordings of the presentations and subsequent discussions can be found on the YouTube channel of the Department of History at Bielefeld University, which you can access via the following link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyKBKVCzI-ZDSUZn_EdUg

Conference overview:

Franz-Josef Arlinghaus (Bielefeld) / Eleonora Rohland (Bielefeld) / Andreas Rüther (Bielefeld): Introduction

Presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6cTQ3HERLY&list=PLY-hgh915Dkd6plj5jsdd2JGjsq6rzm-szm-s

Richard Herzog (Marburg): Merits in motion – The Tlaxcalan campaigns for privileges and influence in colonial Mexico

Presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4uJy0_w0Kk&list=PLY-hgh915Dkd6plj5jsdd2JGjsq6rzm-s&index=7;index=7

Discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rtyj6yVbY8&list=PLY-hgh915Dkd6plj5jsdd2JGjsq6rzm-s&index=6;index=6

Sarah Albiez-Wieck (Münster): Calidad – Evolution and Negotiation of social difference in colonial Spanish America and the Philippines

Presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgqad7pbV0E&list=PLY-hgh915Dkd6plj5jsdd2JGjsq6rzm-s&index=3;index=3

Thomas Weller (Main): Agents of change and go-betweens: transatlantic mobility and social change in colonial Latin America

Presentation & Discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6cTQ3HERLY&list=PLY-hgh915Dkd6plj5jsdd2JGjsq6rzm-szm-s

Valeria López Fadul (Middletown): Words Unraveled. Lexical Objects as Historical Sources in Early Latin America (1492–1600)

Rosa H. Yáñez Rosales (Guadalajara): Writing, reading, and paper in Mesoamerica

Presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pft_js6S-nM&list=PLY-hgh915Dkd6plj5jsdd2JGjsq6rzm-s&index=9;index=9

Discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29DS1rxPZKQ&list=PLY-hgh915Dkd6plj5jsdd2JGjsq6rzm-s&index=8;index=8

Jorun Poettering (Hamburg): Explaining the (Astonishing) Transition from Slavery to Citizenship

Presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfLC7OYDMl4&list=PLY-hgh915Dkd6plj5jsdd2JGjsq6rzm-s&index=10index=10

Discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbw4lf-IYH8&list=PLY-hgh915Dkd6plj5jsdd2JGjsq6rzm-s&index=11index=11

Eleonora Roland (Bielefeld): Entanglement versus Momentum of its own in Hispaniola during the 16th Century

Presentation & discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki8N5UNdx6M&list=PLY-hgh915Dkd6plj5jsdd2JGjsq6rzm-s&index=4;index=4