Brian P. Owensby

Brian P. Owensby

Professor (1994)

Office Hours: M 3:15-4:30 & by appt

Office: Nau 382

Phone: (434) 924-6388

Email: bpo3a (at)

Fields & Specialties

Latin America; Modern Brazil; Colonial Mexico; Legal History; early-modern Spanish empire in the New World


B.A. Oberlin College, Economics, 1981

J.D. Univ. of Michigan Law School, 1984

Ph.D. Princeton University, History, 1994



Empire of Law and Indian Justice in Colonial Mexico (Stanford, 2008).

Intimate Ironies: Making Middle-Class Lives in Modern Brazil (Stanford, 1999).

Select Articles

“Pacto entre rey lejano y súbditos indígenas—Justicia, legalidad y política en México, siglo XVII,” Historia Mexicana (forthcoming spring 2011).

“Forward” to Negotiation Within Domination: New Spain's Indian Pueblos Confront the Spanish State, Ethelia Ruiz Medrano and Susan Kellogg, eds. (forthcoming University of Colorado Press, 2010). 

 "In the Middle of the Margin," in "We Shall Be All": Toward a Global History of the Middle Class, Mary Kay Vaugh, Barbara Weinstein, Ricardo Lopez, eds. (forthcoming)

“‘There is nothing self interest cannot command’: A Romance of Early-Modern Mexico City,” in Erin O’Conncer and Leo Garofolo, eds. Documenting Latin America: Race, Class and Gender.  Prentice Hall: New York, 2010.

"Slave Litigants and the Processes of Liberty in Seventeenth-Century New Spain," in "Slavery, Citizenship, and the State in Classicial Antiquity and the Modern Americas," Special Issue of The European Review of History/Revue Europeene d'Histoire, spring 2009.

"How Juan and Leonor Won Their Freedom: Litigation and Liberty in Seventeenth-Century Mexico," Hispanic American Historical Review 85:1 (Feb. 2005): 39-79.

"Toward a History of Brazil's 'Cordial Racism'--Race Beyond Liberalism," Comparative Studies in Society and History 47 (2005): 318-47.

"Domesticating Modernity: Markets, Home, and Morality in the Middle Class in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, 1930sa nd 1940s," Journal of Urban History 24:3 (Mar. 1998): 337-63.

Select Recent Presentations

“The Legal Underpinnings of Indian Subjecthood in Hapsburg Spanish America.  Outline of an Approach,” American Society of Legal History, Philadelphia, November 18-20, 2010.

 Invited paper: “Intimate Essences vs. Impersonal Love—Imagining Cordiality in Brazil,” for the conference “Living Together—A colloquium on the modes of interpersonal relationships and discourse,” Department of French Language and Literature, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, October 6, 2010.

 Invited paper: “Comunidades indígenas y gobernanza en la época de la independencia—antecedentes virreinales, transformaciones decimonónicas” at the conference Declaraciones de independencia, Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City, September 22-24-, 2010.

Invited lecture: “Law, Peace and Social Pact in Colonial New Spain.” Law, Justice, and Public Security: Challenges for Mexico and Its Neighbors. A Conference on Problems, Policy and Possibilities. Georgetown University, March 26, 2010.

Invited lecture: "Instituciones y elecciones en el siglo XVIII.” Colegio de México, Mexico City, January 20-21, 2010. 

Invited conference paper: “Esbozo hacia una historia íntegra de la cultura política novohispana,” Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales, Congreso Internacional.  América Latina: Crisis y cambio global.  Política, ciudadanía y población.  Madrid, Spain, November 26-27, 2009.

Invited paper: “Law as Politics in Hapsburg Mexico,” Latin American Studies Symposium, Hispanic Political Theory and Practice, XVI-XIX Centuries, University of California, Irvine, Jan. 23-24, 2008.

Invited Conference Paper: "Cordialidade e Modernidade: Problemas e Possibilidades do Pensamento Historico Brasileiro," IV Simposio Internacional de Historia do Brasil (FGV/BRASA), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 2008.

Invited Conference paper: "Liberty in Litigation: Toward Microhistories of Process in Slave Freedom Cases, 17th-Century Mexico," Institute for the Study of Slavery, Nottingham University, England, 2006.

Scholar in Residence, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, Mar.-Apr. 2006. Delivered three lectures: "Between Disenchantment and Discipline: Cordiality and the Challenge of Modernity in Brazil"; "Slave Autonomy, Liberty, and Popular Culture in the Making of Brazilian National Identity"; "The Protection and Liberty of Subjects: Indian Amparo Petitioners in Early-Modern Mexico."

Invited Panelist: "We Shall Be All: Toward a Global History of the Middle Class," University of Maryland, 2006.

Current Research & Thinking

Having finished the book on indigenous litigation in colonial Mexico, I continue to publish on issues of political and legal culture in viceregal Spanish America.  I am also pursuing two newer lines of research to advance my ongoing inquiry into the theory and practice of political and social organization in Latin America.

As part of my abiding interest in the epistemological and theoretical issues of thinking historicallly in a Latin American context, I am working on Sergio Buarque de Holanda's Raízes do Brasil, a ground-breaking work of historical theorizing written in Brazil during the 1930s.  Currently, I am planning an introduction to an English translation of Raízes which Prof Joe Love (University of Illinois) and I are collaborating on.

My next book-length project looks toward a reflection on the Jesuit project among indigenous peoples in Spanish and Portuguese South America during the period up to the expulsion of the Society in the 1760s and beyond. I am interested in the intersection of the Jesuit project with the idea of alternative Enlightenments and the intersection with the emerging capitalist moral order of the late 18th century.

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904

tel: (434) 924-7147; fax: (434) 924-7891
office: M-F 8 am to 4:30 pm
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