Encounters, Rights, and Sovereignty in the Iberian empires, (15th-19th centuries)

Call for papers – University of Évora, Portugal, 24-25 May 2018

The Iberian colonization processes in Asia, Africa and the Americas involved several types of encounters between colonizers and native peoples, as well as rivalries among these and other European colonial powers. These encounters often took the shape of conflicts and confrontations, but they also often happened amidst dynamics of negotiation and accommodation. The Portuguese and the Castilian crowns both tried to regulate these encounters and relationships. Among the many strategies they used was the development of legal norms, partially aimed at assuring some kind of rights to native populations and to the colonial populations that gradually evolved in many different ways (the rights to live, to physical integrity, to land, gender rights, trading rights, citizenship rights, etc.). The implementation, reception, negotiation and everyday use of these norms shaped the way colonial societies developed and defined their own identities. But they also had an impact on the type and extension of sovereignty that each of the Iberian empires was able to built-up in their colonial territories.

Although these topics have already attracted considerable attention from historical scholarship, both Iberian empires are seldom jointly considered and compared. Hence, this conference privileges an approach that takes into account the comparisons, in time and in space, and interactions between the Portuguese and Spanish colonizing dynamics, in a timeframe spanning from the early stages of the Iberian colonization to the first outbreaks of independence. Some of the questions we aim to address in this conference are: How did the Iberian monarchies conceive, if they did so, the rights of native populations in their decision-making processes and in their juridical architecture? With what tools and with what objectives did the Iberian crowns regulate the encounters and relations between native and European populations? How did colonial encounters influence the political, theological and cultural discussion on the rights of peoples, on the rights of ‘others’, and even on human rights? How did these relations influence the gradual definition of borders and frontiers in colonial territories? How did colonial institutions and legal regulations relate with the political and economic objectives of both empirebuilding processes? How did politics, economy and religion intersect in these processes, and how did it affect the contact with native populations and the development of colonial societies? What contacts, transfers and influences took place between the Portuguese and Castilian imperial agents and institutions? How did information circulate from one empire to the other, and how did this information influence the conception of the ‘other’ in both imperial environments? What mechanisms of communication were at work between metropolitan and colonial powers regarding the management of these interactions?

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