This advanced course begins by exploring the early racialization of unfree labor in the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic world in the years leading up to the Columbian encounter, including precedents such as fifteenth-century Portuguese activity off the coast of Africa, the Spanish invasion of the Canary Islands, and the late Iberian Reconquest in general. It then moves into the emulation and modification of the Spanish model by other Atlantic imperial powers, notably Britain and France, and the general hardening of caste lines which occurred in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We also discuss the racial, religious and civilizational categories used by early modern missionaries, most notably the Jesuits, not only with respect to black and indigenous people in the New World but also with respect to civilizations encountered outside the domain of traditional imperialism in South, East, and Southeast Asia. We then discuss how these categories contributed to the formation of “scientific” racism and how the latter, in turn, intersected with a variety of nineteenth-century European and North American imperial and educational projects. We close by reading excerpts from postcolonial theorists who grapple explicitly with the concept of race and its future.

This course sits at the crossroads of early modern and modern history, preparing students to think about advanced topics in the history of colonialism, capitalism, modernity and global racial perceptions. Students will have considerable freedom in picking the topics of their historiographical paper, potentially preparing them for thesis work and in particular the literature review section of a thesis. There will be regular in-class primary source analyses (including pictures, texts in translation, plays, and even songs) which teach advanced historical analysis in a global context.

offering time

Fall 22




Elsa Costa


Course code


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