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Dr. Danielle Terrazas Williams on the Legacy of Free Women of African Descent in Colonial Mexico

Recorded on 07/14/2023
Posted in TIE Podcast

TIE Podcast · Dr. Danielle Terrazas Williams on the Legacy of Free Women of African Descent in Colonial Mexico
The Capital of Free Women: Race, Legitimacy, and Liberty in Colonial Mexico book cover

In this summer session episode, Toward Inclusive Excellence editor-in-chief Alexia Hudson-Ward sits down with Danielle Terrazas Williams, associate professor of history at the University of Leeds and author of The Capital of Free Women: Race, Legitimacy, and Liberty in Colonial Mexico. Based on her archival research spanning many years and several countries, the title brings forward the stories of free women of African descent in Colonial Mexico and Spanish America. Danielle reviews her exploration of a variety of archives—notarial materials, parish or church records, Mexican national archives—to piece together these Black women’s lives and stories. As Danielle explains, she hopes the title will highlight the long legacy of Black people living in Mexico, therefore disrupting the narrative of Mexicans being primarily of Spanish and Indigenous descent. She discusses the barriers faced when engaging in this course correction, and praises the work of librarians and archivists, particularly those in Mexico who face budgetary and staff challenges.

In addition, Danielle outlines the complex landscape these women navigated in terms of race, religion, economy, and social capital; by employing their own ideals of marriage, denomination, and economic independence, they redefined “legitimacy” in Mexican society. To close, Danielle offers a look ahead to future scholarship, including a book project on the impact of the Society of Jesus on African-descended people in Mexico and research on free Black women in entrepreneurship.

About the guest:

Danielle Terrazas Williams headshot

Danielle Terrazas Williams
Associate Professor of History
University of Leeds

Danielle Terrazas Williams is associate professor of history at the University of Leeds. Her work focuses on the social and legal histories of African-descended people in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mexico. Her research interests include women’s history, governance, slavery, family, and notions of class and status. 

Terrazas Williams is a Kellogg Visiting Fellow at the University of Notre Dame, where she works on her second book project, “Imagining Catholic Empires: Slavery, Freedom, and the Jesuits in Colonial Mexico.” This text will examine one of the most prolific Catholic religious orders – the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits – and their role in the ministry of African-descended people in Mexico, exploring larger questions of early modern governance and religious acculturation in Mexico. Her first book, The Capital of Free Women: Race, Legitimacy, and Liberty in Colonial Mexico, challenged traditional narratives of racial hierarchies and gendered mobility by focusing on African-descended women and their experiences in Mexico’s understudied period from 1580 to 1730.

Terrazas Williams’ other scholarship on the Jesuits, legal culture, and early modern women has appeared in History of ReligionsJournal of Women’s HistoryUlúaThe Americas, and Routledge’s Encyclopedia of the Renaissance World. Terrazas Williams previously was an associate professor of history at Oberlin College. She holds a PhD from Duke University.

Episode theme music: Black is the Night by Jeris (c) copyright 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. Ft: DJ Vadim (djvadim), NiGiD

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