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Title: A free coloured elite? : trade, identity and social mobility in Panama city, 1700-1770
Author: Espelt Bombin, Silvia
ISNI:       0000 0004 2719 8635
Awarding Body: University of Newcastle Upon Tyne
Current Institution: University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Date of Award: 2010
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Built on a large corpus of archival sources, this study analyses free people of African descent in eighteenth century Panama City. Using micro-historical and prosopographical methodologies and being organised around a lengthy trade lawsuit between coloured and white pedlars and merchants (1711-1765), my investigation revolves around three main themes. First, I analyse the urban economy in relation to local legislation, wide trans-Atlantic trade dynamics and contraband. This allows me to demonstrate that eighteenth-century Panama City's trade legislation against coloured people, which was promoted by white pedlars and merchants, did not originate in race per se, but had its origins in economic competition and strict governmental regulation on trade. Second, I analyse free coloured people's individual and collective identity, focusing on techniques of upward socio-economic mobility, inter- racial relations and support networks. I argue that although socio-economic upward mobility was frequently an individual initiative, it also occasionally occurred as a collective initiative. Indeed, the legislation banning coloured people from the trade business favoured the appearance of a multi-craft guild based on race, status, identity and common objectives to legally fight for their rights to socio-economic improvement. Finally, I contribute to the current historiographical debate on whether Panama City was conceived and planned as an "elitist city" whose walled area was only inhabited by the white elite, excluding the rest of the population to the Arrabal. My research demonstrates that this thesis is not valid because colonial society was not strictly racial divisible as there were interracial socio-economic networks and inter-racial marriages, and the elite did not have an exclusive conception of Panama City. As a whole, my PhD thesis challenges the current strict hierarchical conception of Panama City's colonial society, and contributes to the understanding of free coloured people's individual and collective agency and identity during the colonial period.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available