Skip to main content

Global Inheritances: Personal Identification and Inheritance Rights in the Early Modern Spanish Empire

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GLOBAL INHERITANCES (Global Inheritances: Personal Identification and Inheritance Rights in the Early Modern Spanish Empire)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-08-31

"The research focused on the analysis of evidence marshalled by individuals to prove their identities and parental relationships in the “Juzgado de bienes de difuntos” trials (Spanish Empire, 16th-18th centuries). The main result was to demonstrate how personal identity in the early modern period was linked less to the availability of official written records (in particular, to the use of parish records of baptism, marriage and death) than to the presence of written and oral evidence of how people behaved during their lives. As the sociology of contemporary family relationships demonstrates, the family bond is something socially constructed through recognition of certain actions qualified as “family practices” by a “relevant audience” (first of all, the neighbourhood networks).
In other words, a Civil or Ecclesiastic authority did not fixed, once and for all, the individual identities of people and their kinship ties at birth through written registration. Personal identity required a constant operation of “ritual maintenance”, and it has to be conceived as “local knowledge”: it was not enough “to be a kin” to successfully claim the inheritance of a dead person in the Spanish colonial empire; it was necessary to “behave like a kin” during one’s life and be recognised as such by “relevant” neighbours (the official members of the community, i.e. the “vecinos”). In the last instance, this socially recognised kinship could be successfully used as a resource in a King’s tribunal in the event of an inheritance dispute.
The main objective of the research was to contrast the theory of modernization and its anachronistic application to the pre-modern European World. At the same time, to show how, in the past, personal identity was conceived in a different way: this is useful in order to deconstructing the concept of ""personal identity"" and offering the scientific community, as well as society more generally, other ways of conceiving the process of identification."
During the period of the fellowship, I carried out bibliographic research activities, taking advantage of opportunities offered by several Parisian libraries and research institutions.
Archival research was mainly carried out in the following archives:
• Archivo General de Indias (Seville, Spain)
• Archivo General de la Nación (Mexico City, Mexico)
• Archivo del Cabildo Metropolitano de la Arquidiócesis de México (Mexico City, Mexico)

In order to develop some comparative case studies, research was also carried out in the following archives:
• Archivo General de Simancas (Simancas, Spain)
• Archivio di Stato di Milano (Milan, Italy)
• Archives Nationales (Paris, France)
• Archives Municipales de Lyon (Lyon, France)

Consistent with the objectives of the project, during the duration of the fellowship, I focused dissemination activities of research results in three axes, addressed respectively to different audiences: (1) scientific publications and participation in and organisation of international conferences, (2) classes for undergraduate and PhD students and (3) dissemination activities aimed at a non-specialist audience.
(1) During the project period, I organised two international conferences held in Paris, attended by speakers from various European (Italy, France, Portugal, Romania, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland) and non-European countries (Brazil, China, Japan, Korea, United States of America). The two workshops, held in Paris in 2017, are the following:
• When the Household Fails (Europe and the Ottoman World) (20th January 2017, CRH, EHESS, Paris)
• (with Luca Gabbiani) Properties without owners (China, Korea, Japan and Europe) (10th November 2017, CRH, EHESS, Paris)
Results of the two international seminars that I organised will be published in a monographic issue of the journal Atelier du CRH (published by the EHESS).
Furthermore, I actively participated in numerous scientific conferences, both in Europe (France, Spain and Italy) and outside Europe (Tunisia and the United States).
Scientific publication are listed at the site:
(2) During the fellowship, I have been involved in the teaching activity of the EHESS, delivering lectures to students during seminars coordinated by Marcela Iacub, Simona Cerutti and Isabelle Grangaud. In September 2019, I will be involved in the organisation of a Doctoral Summer School in Tunisia, planned among the activities of the ANR “Procit” project.
(3) The dissemination activity aimed at a non-specialist audience has focused on two different axes: (a) dissemination on the web and (b) “Society calls, Matrix responds” project.
(a) First, I decided to use the tools of the Internet and, in particular, Wikipedia, the most consulted Encyclopaedia on a global level. The choice was dictated by the commitment to provide university-quality knowledge through an instrument of wide consultation but not always provided with sufficient quality standards. Second, I published a website of the Global Inheritances project in order to better disseminate results:
(b) During 2016, I was engaged in the conception of the project “La società chiama MaTriX risponde” (2016-2018), created by the “MaTriX association” (research network that I helped found). The purpose of this project is to provide high-quality Humanities and Social Science knowledge to all those public and private associations and institutions who request it.
In contrast to the theories that have shown the identification process as a sort of “individuation” and “singularisation” process (i.e. taking the individual out of his or her social context), Spanish tribunals actually had to “contextualise” individuals into their social relationship context: attribution of personal identity and of the rights associated with it proved to be a social rather than “natural” or “institutional” attribute. This has allowed me to demonstrate that the application of the categories of liberal individualism to a society that conceived of itself as a “society of corporate bodies” is in danger of being anachronistic.
The innovative interpretation of these “identifying institutions” has made it possible to challenge the modernisation paradigm, intended as the gradual affirmation of a “modern” individual, freed of family and community relationships that are seen as encumbrances and hindrances to the achievement of individual rights by means of the “nation state” imposing bureaucracy. Showing the existence of “alternative” identification logics, based on “social attribution” of personal identity, made it possible to develop a non-ethnocentric approach and fostered a global comparison with other case studies. In particular – thanks to the organisation of two international seminars involving scholars from Europe, the Islamic and Ottoman world and East Asia – it has been possible to widen the study, beyond the ancient regime of Europe, to the problem of discontinuity in the hereditary transmission of assets.
The development of a paradigm that is attentive to social actors and their rights can offer new tools to develop policies in our contemporary world, traversed by major migratory phenomena which pose serious problems not only to states (called to identify and register these individuals) but above all to migrants (who see their rights in danger).