Scapegoats: Livestock and Indigenous Peoples in Sixteenth-Century New Spain

CGS Brown Bag Lecture Series
Apr 10, 2019
12:15 PM to 01:15 PM
157 Burrowes

Chris Valesey, Penn State

The Columbian Exchange, or the transfer of plants and animals between the Old and New Worlds, was a momentous process that followed Spanish colonialism. Yet when it comes to animals, most historians describe this “exchange” as a one-way transfer of European animals like horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and chickens into the New World. Indigenous peoples seemingly played little-to-no role in facilitating the process and instead appeared as belligerent antagonists to unsupervised livestock. Using court cases and a database of roughly 2,000 animal-grants given to indigenous elites and communities in Mexico, this paper reconstructs indigenous participation in the Columbian Exchange. In many ways, European animals in these legal sources functioned as “scapegoats” for broader issues like authority, autonomy, labor, and a changing ecosystem.

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