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.
“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
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.