Blood and Boundaries

The Limits of Religious and Racial Exclusion in Early Modern Latin America

Stuart B. Schwartz

In Blood and Boundaries, Stuart B. Schwartz takes us to late medieval Latin America to show how Spain and Portugal’s policies of exclusion and discrimination based on religious origins and genealogy were transferred to their colonies in Latin America. Rather than concentrating on the three principal divisions of colonial society—Indians, Europeans, and people of African origins—as is common in studies of these colonial societies, Schwartz examines the three minority groups of moriscos, conversos, and mestizos. Muslim and Jewish converts and their descendants, he shows, posed a special problem for colonial society: they were feared and distrusted as peoples considered ethnically distinct, but at the same time their conversion to Christianity seemed to violate stable social categories and identities. This led to the creation of “cleanliness of blood” regulations that explicitly discriminated against converts. Eventually, Schwartz shows, those regulations were extended to control the subject indigenous and enslaved African populations, and over time, applied to the growing numbers of mestizos, peoples of mixed ethnic origins. Despite the efforts of civil and church and state institutions to regulate, denigrate, and exclude, members of these affected groups often found legal and practical means to ignore, circumvent, or challenge the efforts to categorize and exclude them, creating in the process the dynamic societies of Latin America that emerged in the nineteenth century.

Cover Image of Blood and Boundaries: The Limits of Religious and Racial Exclusion in Early Modern Latin America
Paper: $35 | Cloth: $75 | E-book: $29.95
ISBN-13: 9781684580200
Pages: 212 | Size: 5.5 in. x 8.5 in.
Date Published: November 1, 2020

Another magisterial masterpiece of history from one of this generation’s finest historians. Blood and Boundaries offers a penetrating analysis into the lives of Muslims, Jews and mestizos in the early modern Iberian world, arriving at fresh understandings of the evolution of race and racial discrimination.

Ben Vinson
Provost, Case Western Reserve


  • Another magisterial masterpiece of history from one of this generation’s finest historians. Blood and Boundaries offers a penetrating analysis into the lives of Muslims, Jews and mestizos in the early modern Iberian world, arriving at fresh understandings of the evolution of race and racial discrimination. Beyond the legal and institutional frameworks that policed the boundaries of difference, Blood and Boundaries reaches into individual lives to reveal how rules were upheld, modified, and contributed to a unique world order. Emerging from this work is a not just a nuanced understanding of difference, but of religion, honor, nobility, and the inner workings of power. Armed with an extraordinarily commanding knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese societies, there are few other scholars who could so concisely synthesize such a sweeping, and yet breathtakingly readable rendition of otherwise enigmatic aspects of human history.

    Ben Vinson
    Provost, Case Western Reserve, author of Before Mestizaje: The Frontiers of Race and Caste in Colonial Mexico
  • What other historian could have given us this book? Stuart Schwartz flies effortlessly over 300 years and diverse lands in order to give us a new vision of racial discriminations in Latin America. With elegance and clarity he shows us how over these centuries phenotype came to replace religion in the economy of stigma, and how at every stage in this history, individuals resisted the prejudice imposed upon them. It is a book peopled with fascinating figures recovered from archival oblivion--Inca heiresses, repentant pirates, inter-confessional lovers, rogue conquistadores, African soldiers enslaved and escaped. All are treated with historical empathy, at the same time that they are invited to share their lessons for resisting discrimination with a future very much in need: our own.

    David Nirenberg
    University of Chicago
  • In this lively set of essays distinguished historian Stuart Schwartz draws on his own extensive research and a robust historiography to explore the sociocultural perceptions of, and Spanish and Portuguese relations with, groups that lacked a stable place within the Christian society of the early modern Iberian-American world: converts from Judaism and Islam and their descendants (conversos, moriscos, New Christians) and people who were the products of racial mixing in the Americas. This thought-provoking treatment of the problem of exclusion—and its counterpart, inclusion—and remains as important, and perhaps intractable, in our world as it was in the one that Schwartz addresses.

    Ida Altman
    Professor Emerita, University of Florida
  • Stuart Schwartz's Blood and Boundaries nimbly navigates the ever-multiplying and continuously mutable parameters of exclusion and difference in colonial Latin America through an exploration of precisely those categories that defied classification. Focusing on Moriscos (converts from Islam), conversos (converts from Judaism), and mestizos, whose memberships expanded and contracted over the centuries, depending on the significance of genealogy, religion, or phenotype, Schwartz explores how members of these groups survived, sometimes thrived, in different locations, and how the usage of these labels sometimes morphed from identifiable attributes into allegory. By emphasizing peripheral actors whose identities were always in question, this far-ranging and provocative volume effectively demonstrates how all socioracial categories in Latin America were constructed and reconstructed at particular historical moments.

    Joanne Rappaport
    Georgetown University, author of the forthcoming Cowards Don’t Make History: Orlando Fals Borda and the Origins of Participatory
  • In this concise, elegant, and intelligent book Stuart Schwartz uses his enormous erudition and keen sensibility to transform our understanding of the Iberian Inquisition as well as our comprehension of the complex Iberian societies shaped by racism, orthodoxy, prejudice but occasionally seasoned with pinches of individual tolerance and agency.

    Laura de Mello e Souza
    Paris-Sorbonne University, author of The Devil and the Land of the Holy Cross: Witchcraft, Slavery, and Popular Religion in Colonial Brazil
  • Exact, probing and original, Schwartz’s study of colonial “race” in Latin America reveals a very peculiar world of passing. Schwartz uses three groups to present “race” as an apparatus of hermeneutical suspicion and forged paperwork: Moriscos, conversos, and mestizos. Who actually belonged into these reified communities was extremely difficult to pin down, for colonial race in Latin America did not lie in the skin but in the ability to pay witnesses and insult neighbors. There is a lifetime of scholarship in this brilliant book.

    Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra
    Alice Drysdale Sheffield Professor of History. University of Texas at Austin
  • Blood and Boundaries is a dense and stimulating read. One of its many merits is to bridge the gap between historiographies written in different languages and dealing with different geographies, thus fostering a conversation among disparate scholarly traditions, their methods, and problems.

    Journal of Early Modern History
  • This book is an important and welcome addition to the historiography of ideas about racial difference and exclusion in colonial Latin America.

    Hispanic American Historical Review
  • Stuart Schwartz is certainly one of the most important authors of current scholarship about the early modern Iberian world.

  • This work is an immensely valuable contribution that distills hundreds of studies into an accessible and concise treatment that will inform research for decades to come.

    American Historical Review

About the Author

Stuart B. Schwartz is the George Burton Adams Professor of History and Chair of the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies at Yale University. In 2000, he was made a comendador da Ordem do Cruzeiro do Sul, Brazil’s highest award for foreigners, in recognition of his contributions to Brazilian history.

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