Spotlight: Olimpia Rosenthal
Race, Sex, and Segregation in Colonial Latin America (Routledge 2022), written by Assistant Professor Olimpia Rosenthal in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese within the College of Arts and Sciences, follows the development and evolution of segregationist policies in Spanish and Portuguese America during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In it, she argues that segregationist projects shaped then-emerging notions of racial difference while also contributing to the politicization of reproductive sex and early ideas about demographics and regulation of populations.
“Segregation,” said Professor Rosenthal, “is frequently dismissed by historians and cultural critics as an important concept to understand the region's colonial history, largely because the dominant view is that segregationist projects were never successful.” Race is intended to complicate this view, she said, especially in studying the development of “Indian towns” and aldeamentos (in the case of Brazil) – segregated areas where indigenous subjects were, sometimes forcefully, moved.
In Race, the examination of boundaries, whether imagined or enacted, in these segregationist projects led Rosenthal to studying laws enacted that were, on their face, meant to support indigenous population growth. “This, I argue, overtly politicized reproduction (as an area of reflection and intervention) and affected women differentially than men because it limited women’s mobility based on our embodied role in reproduction,” she said.
The origins of this book began from Rosenthal’s doctoral dissertation, and led her through regional and national archives in Mexico, Peru, and Brazil, as well as through extensive historiographical studies, she said. Her longtime interest in two of the main case studies of Race, Guaman Poma (a 17th century Andean author and illustrator) and a group of Portuguese orphans who were sent to Brazil, India, and Africa as part of an imperial project, and their pertinence to the research also led her to include them in the book.
Rosenthal expressed gratitude to the various reading groups she was part of during the, at times, difficult writing process. Reading groups also helped her develop the conceptual framework for the book.
“The writing process was likewise long and at times arduous, especially during the early years of the pandemic,” she said. “The faculty writings groups at IU were a great resource that greatly helped with the completion of the project.”
Not slowing down a second after the publication of Race, Rosenthal is currently the co-PI for the Sawyer Seminar’s project, “Global Slaveries, Fugitivity, and the Afterlives of Unfreedom.” In the project, she focuses on histories of slavery – something touched upon in Race, but not explored further than the scope of the book. She won the 2023 IU Presidential Arts and Humanities Conference and Workshop Travel Grant and specializes in Latin American colonial studies, postcolonial theory, Andean literature, visual culture, and critical race studies with a focus on historicizing race, mestizaje, racialized sex, and notions of blood purity.