Zoology of Mixing: Discourses of Race and Species in Early Modern Europe

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Abstract Summary
As the Spanish Empire grew and society stabilized in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, European agents transposed both their breeding practices and zoological language to organize proliferating human difference. Amidst the hubris of imagining how breeding could create a more perfect society, Renaissance European husbandmen and patrons had first developed the term “race” to describe animal offspring born on stud farms. In its original Renaissance conception, race was thought to be malleable while gender and sex were fixed. Within the Spanish Empire, power relations concretized emergent racial categories like mestizo, mulatto, and criollo – terms originally used to describe animal mixing. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, naturalists bolstered their convictions that species boundaries were unassailable. This paper shows how race and species were more discursive constructs than material realities by following the ideas’ proliferation in European discourse beyond the Spanish empire. To that end, this paper analyzes an extensive database that traces the movement of the language of race in humans and animals in published and manuscript sources in Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, German, Latin, and English between 1400 and 1700. I argue that race—originally a fragile category designating the human artifice that shaped one generation at a time—began to designate traits fixed across generations by the early 1600s, rendering a temporary social hierarchy embodied and permanent. This growing belief in the fixity of difference transferred from Spanish society to the emergent field of natural history, where the most exciting research was being done in the Spanish American empire.
Abstract ID :
HSS351
Submission Type
Chronological Classification :
Renaissance

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