Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, History, Pennsylvania State University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2018
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Pennsylvania State University
Indigenous Identity on the Edge of Empire: Diplomacy and Destruction in Colonial New Spain

My dissertation project examines the process of ethnogenesis (the emergence of a peoples' ethnic self-awareness) among two indigenous groups in Latin America during the colonial period. I focus on the Yucatan Peninsula and the Caribbean Coast of Central America, and the two largest indigenous groups that inhabited these spaces: the Yucatec Maya and the Miskitu. Today, many Maya and Miskitu individuals identify themselves as belonging to these two cultural groups. Before European contact, however, this was not the case. My project seeks to explain why this transformation took place and explores the role European (Spanish and English) colonization played in this process. This project seeks to answer two questions. First, how did the Miskitu and Yucatec Maya define themselves as part of a larger ethnic or cultural community, and how did these definitions evolve over time or differ based on local circumstance? Second, what categories did Europeans construct for the Miskitu and Yucatec Maya, and how were these ascribed identities used to justify colonial policies? This study is the first to compare these two indigenous groups and their interactions with the Spanish and British empires, and to examine the Caribbean Coast of Central America and the Yucatan Peninsula as one large interconnected region. In addition, my project elucidates colonial practices often missing from scholarship on Latin America including European projects of indigenous extermination and the widespread practice of indigenous slavery. I also explore the impact of racial intermixing and indigenous rulership on Miskitu and Maya identity. In sum, this project offers two detailed case studies of indigenous actors and their interactions with two of the most powerful early modern European empires. These interactions helped shape the Miskitu and Yucatec Maya into the two recognizable groups that they are today. My dissertation explores and aims to explain this process of indigenous ethnogenesis.