MidRev: Part Two (HUM455)

The colonization of America, we have noted repeatedly, produced new social identities. The intermingling of people from Europe, America, and Africa led to the formation of a racio-political taxonomy, notably in the Casta System of Spanish America or according to the multifarious categories established in St. Domingue, which postulated 110 gradations of color. One of the key distinctions created by colonialism, less a matter of race than of nativity, divided criollos from peninsulares. Even so, intermarriage (and the rape of enslaved women) also produced mestizos (in New France, metis), mulattos, zambos, etc. The cultural value of mestizaje– of hybridity– shaped Latin American identity in a way that was absent in North America, where rigid prohibitions against miscegenation (routinely violated by EuroAmerican slavers interested in increasing their stock of chattel) worked in tandem with the rule of hypodescent to privilege (and police the boundaries of) whiteness.

You might consider early accounts of contact and conquest found in the excerpts from Chasteen’s Born in Blood and Fire. Or how could we fail to reference The Tempest in terms of the “brave new world that has such people in’t”? Along similar lines, Patterson’s “Inventing Barbarians” proves indispensable in giving us a sense of the long term development of the categories of barbarian and savage. Finally, The Last of the Mohicans dramatizes conflict between people whom Cooper believes to possess sharply distinct levels of civilizational attainment. Entering the deep woods of the borderlands, European empires collide with “natives” of varying character and Natty Bumppo’s constantly reiterated remarks on “natural gifts” provide a window into this discourse of race, power, and culture according to the mode of romance.

In some sense Cooper leads directly into Turner, whose seminal essay “The Significance of the Frontier, etc.” even now shapes a highly ideological view of (US) American national identity. Turner’s view of the frontier as a crucible for nation-formation, like Bolivar’s vision of a single, unified America stretching from Colorado to Tierra del Fuego, links geography to destiny.

Tomorrow we’ll review. Come prepared, with questions

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