Nov. 30, 2023

On November 16, 2023, more than 35 students, faculty and scholars from different departments and programs filled the third-floor atrium of Aaron Burr Hall, home to Princeton’s Program in Latin American Studies (PLAS). They had gathered at the Graduate Workshop, titled “Erasure and Enslavement: Imperial Anxieties in the Spanish Philippines.” SPO graduate students David Rivera and Nicholas Sy (Visiting Student Research Collaborator from Radboud University and the University of the Philippines Diliman) presented their research. SPO graduate student Yangyou Fang, also a PLAS Graduate Fellow and organizer of the event, served as discussant. SPO senior Clariza Macaspac pursuing PLAS certificate, moderated the workshop. Together, the speakers and the audiences engaged in an interactive and interdisciplinary dialogue on understudied aspects (such as imperial anxieties and indigenous enslavement) of Spanish colonial histories in the Pacific and Latin America.

students and professors sitting around a table listening to a lecture

The audience listening attentively to the presenters.

David Rivera presented his work-in-progress “Anxieties of Erasure and Clothing Practices in XVII-Century Spanish Manila,” on the clothing practices of the Chinese groups, and the convergence of diverse communities in seventeenth-century Manila, a hotspot for world trade that connected Asia, the Americas, and Europe. Nicholas Sy spoke about part of his doctoral thesis: “Ants of the same color: Indigenous construction of colonial enslavement in Spain’s Transpacific West.” At the Q&A, both shared their experience working with primary sources in archives around the world. 

Professor Yonatan Glazer-Eytan (Department of History) spoke highly of the exchange, “On the basis of impressive archival work and innovative methodologies, David Rivera and Nicholas C. Sy explored the spectre of Spanish imperial anxieties in clothing practices and constructions of enslavement. Their sensitive attention to local dynamics, whether in shape of concerns about the Chinese or in the role of indigenous elites in defining slavery, marks an important direction of future scholarship." 

PLAS Visiting Scholar and Professor of History at the University of Arizona, Michael Brescia, commented on the interdisciplinary and cross-geographical reach of the event: “The workshop brought together budding scholars in a collegial environment where they shared their interdisciplinary research on the critical links between material

people seated around a table listening to a lecture

Professor Yonatan Glazer-Eytan from Department of History posed questions.

culture, racialization of enslavement, and the commercial worlds of the Spanish Pacific and Atlantic. Deftly organized by the discussant, Yangyou Fang, a PLAS Graduate Fellow, the workshop introduced the PLAS community to Nicholas Sy and David Rivera, both of whom demonstrated careful uses of varied archival materials informed by the Spanish colonial experience.”

Professor Shaun Marmon (Religion) echoed: “It was a pleasure to hear two scholars present such outstanding work, based on serious research and analysis. The comments and the conversation that followed illustrated PLAS's vibrant and collegial academic community.  I am delighted that Princeton's slavery studies now include Southeast Asia.”

Yanping Wei, doctoral student in World History from Zhejiang University (China), echoed: “I am very impressed by how students and faculty from different departments and disciplines came together.”

Yangyou Fang, the organizer of the initiative, reflected with gratitude: “when I was conceiving the symposium, I saw the opportunity to bring together scholarly interests and expertise from across the communities at Princeton and beyond. Being a PLAS fellow provided a platform to convene scholars that work across traditionally-defined disciplines. In fact, by 1601, the Spanish Crown in the official cartography, considered Asia and Americas continuous and connected, not separate. I see this occasion an invitation for scholars to discuss how global, connected and diverse the world was during the early modern period. ”