Fractional Freedoms: Slavery, Intimacy, and Legal Mobilization in Colonial Lima, 1600–1700

Michelle McKinley. September 2016. Cambridge University Press. Available to purchase via Cambridge University Press and Amazon.

Fractional Freedoms explores how thousands of slaves in colonial Peru were able to secure their freedom, keep their families intact, negotiate lower self-purchase prices, and arrange transfers of ownership by filing legal claims. Through extensive archival research, Michelle A. McKinley excavates the experiences of enslaved women whose historical footprint is barely visible in the official record. She complicates the way we think about life under slavery and demonstrates the degree to which slaves were able to exercise their own agency, despite being ensnared by the Atlantic slave trade. Enslaved women are situated as legal actors who had overlapping identities as wives, mothers, mistresses, wet-nurses and day-wage domestics, and these experiences within the urban working environment are shown to condition their identities as slaves. Although the outcomes of their lawsuits varied, Fractional Freedoms demonstrates how enslaved women used channels of affection and intimacy to press for liberty and prevent the generational transmission of enslavement to their children.

Endorsements:

“This is, without a doubt, one of the richest, most complex and well-researched studies of urban slavery in colonial Latin America. McKinley brings acute legal knowledge, both of the content of law and of its performative practice, to a study of enslaved men and women. The archival wealth here, plus the author’s ability to tell a compelling yarn, produce an engaging and scholarly tome.”
–Karen B. Graubart, Associate Professor, University of Notre Dame

“Michelle McKinley has written a book that embodies the richness of recent Latin American legal history and also transcends that literature. Fractional Freedoms is rooted in heroic work in recondite and intractable archives in Europe and in the Americas. It is shaped by an incredibly sophisticated historical imagination, and is also filled with really interesting and well told stories about the negotiations and the local lives of enslaved Africans in early modern Lima. There are surprises on every page. For anyone interested in the global history of slavery, which by rights should be every serious student of history, this is the state of the art.”
–Hendrik Hartog, Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty, Princeton University

“This is a first-rate piece of original, archive-based scholarship. It is a meticulous and extremely thoughtful examination of women’s lives under slavery in and around Lima, Peru, a part of the Americas few connect with this institution. What really sets this book manuscript apart is the author’s razor-sharp understanding and clear
explanation of the colonial legal system. This book is a fully accessible social history that … contributes substantially to the growing history of the African diaspora.”
–Kris Lane, Scholes Professor, Tulane University

Reviews:

Susan Hogue Negrete reviewed Fractional Freedoms in October 2017 in H-LatAm. You can read her review here.

Lea VanderVelde reviewed Fractional Freedoms in November 2017 in Law and History Review Volume 35, Issue 4. You can read the review here.

H-Law published Lyman Johnson’s review of Fractional Freedoms in December 2017. You can read that review on H-Net here.

About the Author:

Michelle McKinley is the Bernard B. Kliks Professor of Law. She teaches Immigration Law and Policy, Public International Law, International Criminal Law, and Refugee & Asylum Law. Professor McKinley attended Harvard Law School, where she was Executive Editor of the Harvard Human Rights Journal and graduated cum laude in 1995. Professor McKinley also holds a Masters Degree in Social Anthropology from Oxford University.

McKinley has extensively published work on public international law, Latin American legal history, and the law of slavery. Her articles appear in the Law and History Review; Slavery & Abolition; Journal of Family History, Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice; Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power; Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, and Unbound: Harvard Law Journal of the Legal Left, among others. She has been granted fellowships for her research from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, and the Newberry Library. She was awarded the Surrency Prize in 2011 for her article, “Fractional Freedoms: Legal Activism & Ecclesiastical Courts in Colonial Lima, 1593-1700.” In 2014, she was a fellow in residence at Princeton University’s Program in Law and Public Affairs, where she completed a book on enslaved women in colonial Latin America using courts to litigate their claims to liberty.

Prior to joining the academy, Professor McKinley was the former Managing Director of Cultural Survival, an advocacy and research organization dedicated to indigenous peoples. She is also the founder, and former director, of the Amazonian Peoples’ Resources Initiative, a community based reproductive rights organization in Peru, where she worked for nine years as an advocate for global health and human rights.

See Professor McKinley’s page on the University of Oregon’s School of Law website for more information.

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