Modern Inquisitions explores the cultural work of colonialism in the seventeenth century Peruvian Andes and attempts to address some of the complex, cultural practices that accompanied the institutionalization of state power in Europe and the colonial New World. A primary source of my investigation has been records from the Lima headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition. These documents show us the Inquisition's modern side: it was Europe's most advanced bureaucracy at the time and it helped instantiate the racialized categories of colonial rule that girded modern state-making.
Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, an eighteen year old, German-speaking poet, died in an SS labor camp in 1942. She left behind a hand-written album of 57 poems that miraculously survived the War. Selma was from Czernowitz (at the time, Cernauti, Romania and today Chernivtsi, Ukraine), a city famous for its poets, like cousin Paul Celan, as well as for its “multicultural” ethos. Although Selma’s poetry had its first commercial publication in Hamburg thirty years ago, over the last seven years her poems have captured the imaginations of German and Austrian playwrights, professors, students, and musicians; now Ukrainian teachers, students, artists and city officials are discovering her poetry as well. This paper explores the resurging interest in Selma Meerbaum’s life and poetry as part of a project of potential reconciliation with the past -- and for the future. It focuses on memory-work, the social practices and social relations that make the past into a vital part of the present. It connects broad debates over how to – or whether to –publicly represent, atone for, or bury one of the modern world’s most horrifying episodes with current frictions over nationhood, moral obligations, and political vision. The goal is to explore how Chernvitsi residents, living in a city marked by communities with shared and diverse histories -- and diverse histories of facing the past – are creating milieus of meaning, and potential meanings, for Selma’s life and art. Selma presentations and performances are part of an aesthetic negotiation of public memory and embody the discord of unresolved pasts and an unsettled present.
Note: Article published after 2012 Annual Review was submitted
The Spanish Inquisition in colonial Peru: Bureaucracy, Race-Thinking, and the Making of the Modern World Trying to understand how “civilized” people could embrace fascism, Hannah Arendt searched for a precedent in Western history. She found it in 19th century colonialism, with its mix of bureaucratic rule, “race-thinking,” and appeals to violent, “civilized” rationality. This article takes Arendt's insights about the barbaric underside of Western society and moves them back to the 17th century, when Spanish colonialism dominated the globe. From the 16th century through the mid-17th century, Spain was in the vanguard of Europe, putting in place cutting-edge bureaucracies, like the Inquisition, to administer and control colonial populations. The Inquisition was the premier bureaucracy to evaluate and install race-thinking designs and ideologies of “civilizing” that camouflaged the horrors of modern experience—including the use of torture.
The Inquisition articulated cultural blame, and this esssay looks at the relationship between cultural blaming and disputes over who could legitimately claim to be Spanish. The fate of New Christians (women and men, converts to Christianity, of Jewish or Moslem descent) gives purchase on this issue, clarifying the debates over what "Spanishness" entailed. New Christians were suspect, formally discriminated agaisnt, and denied access to religious and secular offices. Most of Peru's Inqisitors, skeptical about New Christian's comitment to Christianity, believed they were seditious Jews at heart. In its practice the tribuanl equated Old Christian with true Spanishness, demonstrating and reenforcing a racialized view of what "Spaniard" was all about.
I was invited to write a "forward" to these collected essays
This essay, published in the proceedings of an international conference on archaeology and memory in light of the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, explores how conceptions of the pre-Columbian past have been used to support political agendas. It includes a critique of von Daniken’s theory of the extraterrestrial origins of pre- Columbian sites, Mexican revolutionary ideology, and Indianist movements in Peru.
This essay explores the way in which “modernity” has been defined in the English speaking world and asks how that definition has excluded the participation of Spain and the Spanish colonies. I trace this process back to the 16th century and the propoganda wars (the Black Legend) of England against its principal rival, Spain. Currently, while academics in the Latin America trace the beginning of “modernity” to Spanish colonialism, counterparts in the United States and England have tended to look at the nineteenth century -- when British colonialism achieved dominance.
Inquisitors considered "witches" to be a colonial plague. This essay explores the history of the charges made agsinst these women and, in the process, uncovers patterns linking discourses of gender and race to political ideologies. Accused witches, nearly always women, came from all of the colony's racial clases except "indio". Some were Spanish, others mestizos, mulattas, and blacks. Nevertheless, bu the early seventeenth century they were condemed for sorcery that depended on Ineian prayers, herbs, language and sacred ohjects. By the middle of the seventeenth century, non-Indian witches were charged with practicing an Inca-centered form of sorcery. The essay argues that this presumed, unholy alliance was also a political charge, steeped in discourses not usually used in the West -- a nascent, gendered expression of creole belief.
Contemporary Andean polities are haunted by colonial legacies. Looking at state-making from the off-centered view-point of emerging colonial institutions helps make sense of the trajectory of horrors and irrationalities – as well as idioms of political legitimacy and justice – that have profoundly marked modern Andean life. European state-making was chained to imperial endeavors and Spanish political ideologies, like those of Spain’s early modern competitors, reflect modernity’s beginnings in this dialectic of state-making and colonialism. My essay explores how colonial apparatuses of statecraft, washed in the dictates of imperial control, made race-thinking – and the imperatives of “civilization” -- part of the body politic. And, while this essay can be suggestive at best, I hope it pushes us to ask why -- and how -- these beginnings have not been central to our perceptions of modern experience or modern states
Critical commentary for traveling art exhibition on the production and consumption of textiles, curated by Ines Doujak. Exhibited in 1)"Unauthorized", InterArts Center, Malmo (Sweden) and in 2)"Reflecting Fashion", Museum of Modern Art, Vienna (Austria) Projected exhibitions in La Darcena, Buenos Aires (Argentina), and in Changdong Studios, Seoul (South Korea)