Since Douglas Cope’s seminal study The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City 1660-1720 was published in 1994, historians have understood the caste system, or sistema de castas, that categorised New Spain’s multiracial population as an elite construct to impose order on a disordered plebe, rather than a discourse that reflected existing, clearly defined racial boundaries.
Recent years have seen a real flowering of scholarship about the popular music of the early twentieth century. Here are a few of my favorites—and a little something extra.
Southern musicians performed a staggering variety of music in the early twentieth century. Black and white artists played blues, ballads, ragtime and string band music, as well as the plethora of styles popular throughout the nation: sentimental ballads, minstrel songs, Tin Pan Alley tunes, and Broadway hits. They embraced pop music. Many performed any music they could, regardless of their racial or regional identities. Such variety could appear in the same set as a performer eased from one song to the next. Observers agreed that rural southerners loved all sorts of music. Yet they fought about whether that was a good thing.
In 1746 Dr. Andrés Arce y Miranda, a creole attorney from Puebla, Mexico, criticized a series of paintings known as the cuadros de castas or casta paintings. Offended by their depictions of racial mixtures of the inhabitants of Spain’s American colonies, Arce y Miranda feared the paintings would send back to Spain the damaging message that creoles, the Mexican-born children of Spanish parents, were of mixed blood.
Empires of the Atlantic World is an engaging comparative history of the processes of conquest, colonization, and independence in the British and Spanish American empires. Elliot compares such factors as luck, race relations, and religion in the ways the two systems of colonization—and de-colonization—occurred in the Americas.
Michele Mitchell’s Righteous Propagation is a fascinating study of the tactics African Americans used to bolster racial uplift after Reconstruction. Mitchell presents the book as a social history, revealing moments when African Americans shared ideas on ways to advance the race during the Progressive Era at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.