September 26, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Dantas Explores Mixed-Race Families in Colonial Brazil

Dr. Mariana Dantas

Dr. Mariana Dantas

During the 2016-17 academic year, Dr. Mariana Dantas, Associate Professor of History at Ohio University, will be a resident fellow at the National Humanities Center, in North Carolina.

She will be working on the manuscript of her second book. The project examines the formation of mixed-race families in colonial Brazil by following three generations of the Vieira da Costa and Rodrigues da Cruz families. Both families were from the mining township of Sabará, in the region of Minas Gerais, and descended from a Portuguese gold mining entrepreneur and slave women.

Dantas aims to address the complex history of family formation, black motherhood, mixed-descent, and social mobility in her work. She hopes to show that the emergence of racial categories such as mulatto was a process marked by tension and negotiation. While colonial authorities used the term to designate individuals who, because of their mixed-descent, were deemed less deserving of social prestige, economic resources, or political power, families themselves strove to determine the types of social, economic, and political opportunities to which their members would have access. And as some of these families reveal, enslaved and freed black mothers were at the forefront of family efforts to empower their children as much as propertied white fathers. Ultimately, Dantas contends that this contentious exchange between colonial laws and forces, on the one hand, and families, on the other, was key to the evolution of racial practices and policies in colonial Brazil.

Dantas’s work will make an important contribution to the study of the history of slavery, of African-descendants in the Americas, and family and women’s history in Latin America. She believes, moreover, that the book’s stories about daily family life in an eighteenth-century Brazilian colonial mining town should appeal to a diverse audience. The Vieira da Costa and Rodrigues da Cruz families, with their illegitimate children, property disputes, slave members pursuing freedom, cases of insanity and disinheritance, rags to riches and riches to rags tales can truly capture a reader’s imagination.

For more on Dantas’s research and teaching interests, visit her History Department profile.

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