Essential Differences: Body and Place in the Early Modern Atlantic

Essential Differences: Body and Place in the Early Modern Atlantic

Heather Peterson

Heather Peterson's project started with an investigation of the ideas Spaniards brought with them across the Atlantic about the generation of man, and the relationship between body and environment. It then moved on to look at the ways Spaniards imagined the environmental influences of New Spain throughout the first hundred years of colonization. Finally, it concluded with a moment in Mexico City at the turn of the seventeenth century when Juan de Cárdenas, Diego de Cisneros, and Enrico Martínez posited that Creoles inherited an “essential” choleric nature along with other physical features, such as beards and a propensity to go bald. It argued that this construction reflects the same “knowledge regime” of heredity that informed the seventeenth-century casta paintings, and that this understanding of heredity was not entirely unrelated to the emphasis on limpieza de sangre, or purity of blood, which governed the caste system throughout the Spanish Americas. Just as Creoles inherited the Old Christian blood of their ancestors, they inherited the “essential” Spanish nature conferred by the stars, soil, and water of their forefathers. According to these authors it was possible to be a product of two places. Just as man was a microcosm of the machina mundi, Creole bodies were a microcosm of two worlds.