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Con nuestro trabajo y sudor: Indigenous women and the construction of colonial society in 16th and 17th century Peru

Karen B Graubart, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines the lives of indigenous women in early colonial Peru, residents of the cities of Lima and Trujillo as well as nearby rural regions, between 1532 and 1700. It does so by interweaving two major thematic concerns. On one level, it includes historical investigations, based upon archival records (in particular some two hundred indigenous women's wills from these two cities), into the multiplicity of economic, political and social roles that made up women's daily lives. Their possessions, occupations, values, social networks and strategies for survival are compared, discussed and placed in historical context, without inappropriately generalizing or universalizing their experiences. On another interconnected level, the dissertation examines the hybridity of colonial relations, taking the cultures and institutions of colonial society as fields of contestation and power and investigating them genealogically. By counterpointing chronicles of conquest, notarial documents, and legal and bureaucratic records, the work develops a strategy for reading colonial history that is not predicated upon a neat but false distinction between “European” and “traditional” societies. The contribution of this dissertation is thus not only a rich base of information about colonial women but also the expectation that any such investigation must be creative and open-ended. The five chapters include analyses of the political causes and effects of representations of prehispanic indigenous society in the chronicles of conquest and early histories of Peru; the role of weaving and the development of a gendered division of labor in the colonial economy; urban women's economic roles and networks according to their wills; the cultural significance of their possessions, especially indigenous and European-style clothing; legal and extra-legal strategies regarding property and inheritance; and a genealogy of the “cacica,” indigenous women who held elite office during the colonial period via their claim to continuity with prehispanic political traditions.

Subject Area

Latin American history|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Graubart, Karen B, "Con nuestro trabajo y sudor: Indigenous women and the construction of colonial society in 16th and 17th century Peru" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9978501.