Prof. Jane Mangan Wins Top Book Prize for 'Transatlantic Obligations'

Jane Mangan, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Professor of History and Latin American Studies, has won the American Historical Association's 2017 Friedrich Katz Prize for best book published in English focusing on Latin American and Caribbean history.

Mangan's book Transatlantic Obligations: Creating the Bonds of Family in Conquest-Era Peru and Spain (Oxford Univ. Press, 2016) is the first systematic study of families in 16th-century Peru with a transatlantic focus. Mangan's research traces family obligations connecting Peru and Spain through dowries, bequests, legal powers and letters.

The source material dates back 500 years, but Mangan's subject of how families define themselves in the world resonates today, as modern migratory and refugee families negotiate their own familial obligations.

Transatlantic Obligations previously won the RMCLAS (Rocky Mountain Council of Latin American Studies) Bandelier/Lavrin Book Prize in Colonial Latin American History. Mangan teaches upper-level courses on colonialism, gender, immigration, U.S. Latino history, and revolution, and survey courses on colonial and modern Latin American history.

Here, Mangan offers insights into families, then and now.

One book critic wrote that Transatlantic Obligations "presents a powerful call to rethink 16th-century definitions of family." What are some principal elements of that rethinking?
Whether indigenous or Spanish, families in the 1500s felt the impact of European expansion into the New World. Most sources privilege our understanding of those familial changes in the most elite levels of society. In this book, I focused on non-elite families and mixed-race families to show that the seemingly quotidian practices of being a spouse, parent or sibling were in fact building blocks of colonial society.

What are some of the similarities between definitions of family in Peru and Spain then and in America now?
The book highlights how families are complex structures and argues that the relationships among family members respond as much to historical circumstance (in the case of the book, expansion of Spanish empire into Peru) as they are shaped by legal or religious norms. That is the greatest similarity.

What about striking differences?
Historical analysis invites us to think profoundly about the moment in which we live through comparison. I hope that readers will use what they learn in the book to ask pointed questions about how family relationship are shaped in the moment in which we live–both in accordance with and in resistance to legal and social norms.

What perspectives have you gleaned from your work on Transatlantic Obligations toward similar obligations that currently bond families across the U.S./Mexico border?
This is a timely question given that I'm teaching my U.S. Latinx history course this spring, which engages students in discussions about family and migration across time. I frequently notice that some contemporary headlines read like 16th- century letters between Spain and the New World, given the universality of family attachments with regard to emotional ties and material wellbeing. Simultaneously, families past and present struggle to maintain unity and identity in the face of logistical challenges that are daunting and political obstacles that are based on race and social position.

John Syme


  • February 2, 2018