Current Institutional Affiliation
Managing Director, San Ignacio Jesuit Church Archaeological Project

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2007
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Columbia University
Daring Traffic: An Archaeology of Slavers and Slaves in Early Colonial Panama (1662-1671)

This research project delves into both archaeological evidence and firsthand written sources to address the material constitution of slavers’ life experiences in early colonial Panama. It draws on the premise that African-born captives held an ambiguous role in local society, both as precious objects of exchange and as threatening cultural subjects exerting a disruptive influence over their captors’ social life. Focusing on the cultural vulnerability of slavers rather than in expressions of cultural resistance among African captives is an innovative way to highlight the transforming role played by slaves as social agents within every sector of colonial society in the Spanish Empire. As many colonial transcripts suggest, being a slave-trader in 17th-century Panama was a risky choice to make and my project looks into the rationale of this decision-making. Who were these people who made a living out of buying and selling human lives as if they were any other sort of good? How were their existences shaped by their experience of others’ captivity? How did they express their choices in their own logics of material consumption? How did those choices represent their own conceptions of freedom and social success? Without any doubt, the ruins of the humming colonial port-city of Panama, in which the ephemeral fortune of a few was conspicuously built upon the misery of others, constitute an ideal setting where to address these important issues in an archaeology of the modern world.