Down the PARES rabbit hole

I spent some time searching PARES yesterday, and I came across a great Spanish Royal Treasury register for Havana from 1788. It is filed as “Mapa de la isla de Cuba y plano de las fortificaciones y torre faro del Morro de la Habana” (MP-SANTO_DOMINGO, 860) for the two images below that appear on the register. The fortresses of El Morro and San Carlos de la Cabaña — the latter completed in 1774 — figure in as fitting adornment as they sat at the entrance to the bay where goods (including enslaved men and women) entered and exited. The register lists the total number of ships entering and leaving for the year, in the categories military, mail, merchants, and foreign.

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The register also totals all the sales of exports from Havana for the year, and it also includes total sources of other income, like what appear to be taxes on the sales of enslaved individuals. Exports from Havana comprise silver, gold, sugar, tobacco, honey, parrots, aguardiente, wood, leather, sweets, cotton, coconuts, wax, starch, rice, and cocoa, and the record also details amounts of each. The destinations are listed below. I was surprised to learn that enough parrots were exported from Havana in 1788 to be included: 53 in total.

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On the colonial gaze and old futures

During the first round of U.S.-Cuba talks, Brian Williams reported live from Havana for NBC Nightly News. As part of the January 21 broadcast, Williams interviewed Paula Laura Mendi, a freelance producer, for her perspective on the recently announced changes in U.S. policy and their implications for Cuba. He introduced the interview segment from his broadcast location near the intersection of Prado and Malecón, the city’s seawall, as seen below.

image interview start

Williams introduces the segment.

As the interview segment begins, we first see Paula’s face against the backdrop of a worn door and wall of peeling paint. The tight focus highlights her upper body against the dilapidated building. The crop encourages the viewer to see the building as perhaps colonial, but definitely a ruin.

Image 8

The first frame of the interview.

In the next shot, we see the bodies of Brian and Paula, aligned with the door frame. Only the width of the scratched door separates them. Brian’s proximity to Paula infuses the interview with an odd intimacy. He also leans on the doorstep with his left foot and opens his body in Paula’s direction.

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The interview begins.

At other moments in the interview, Brian gestures emphatically in the direction of Paula, further decreasing the distance between them. As viewers, we don’t know why producers scouted this location or decided on this framing. The staging, though, suggests Brian has intimate access to Paula. In contrast, the next day, reporter Andrea Mitchell interviewed a group of U.S. students studying in Havana, and they sat comfortably around a coffee table in a nondescript outdoor setting.

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And continues.

The staging also immediately reminded of Spanish artist Victor Patricio Landaluze’s representations of mulatas in nineteenth-century Cuba, part of his large repertoire of scenes of Cuban society. As a “painter of Cuban life,” per the art historian Carmen Ramos, Landaluze produced an array of illustrations of for newspapers, magazines, and lithographs. In his many representations of people of color, Landaluze often places them on the street, near building doorways and windows, standing close together.


Victor Patricio Landaluze, Soldado con una mulata (Solder with a Mulata), c. 1870, oil on canvas

He infused many of the representations of people of color — both enslaved and free — with a satiric and biting edge as if simultaneously providing an antidote for the racial anxiety that pervaded colonial society. At the time I saw the Brian Williams interview, I also happened to be rereading Jill Lane’s article on contemporary “smoking habanera” tourist figurines which draw, in part, on Landaluze’s illustrations.


Victor Patricio Landaluze, Calesero cortejando una cocinera (The Carriage Driver Courting a Cook), c. 1870, oil on canvas

Lane, in particular, discusses Landaluze’s illustrations of mulatas, particularly smoking mulatas, as images that codify a vision of the “transgressive” mulata. She notes the following about the above image:

“Rather than completing her errand, the cook (likely a house slave) instead dallies on the street, smoking and talking with the carriage driver. The mulata with the soldier seems to have no purpose at all, other than smoking in the street. It is this unauthorized or excess leisure that marks the smoking mulata: she is transgressive in her refusal of work and in her refusal of the sexual ideology of whitening, but nonetheless she remains more titillating than threatening.”[1]

landaluze soldado

Victor Patricio Landaluze, Soldado con una mulata (Solder with a Mulata), c. 1870, oil on canvas

She argues that Landaluze fixes the availability of the mulata with his white, male gaze — a trope that later resurfaces in early 20th century re-imaginings of the sexual and free mulata. The gaze appears again, even if fortuitously, in the staging of the MSNBC interview. Yet, Paula works. She fulfills a purpose, to borrow Lane’s language. She does not dally. Brian indeed notes Paula’s own professional identity as a freelance producer.

Image 3

We near the end of the interview.

She has opinions, too. Laura discusses how Cubans should understand the impending arrival of more visitors from the United States. She underscores the potential for change, even calling it a new kind of revolution. She seems to exist, then, outside the trope’s insistence on the physical availability of the Cuban woman, but we, as viewers, still see Brian and Paula through Landaluze’s lens. Brian’s presence, standing so closely next to her, still suggests access — perhaps not to the physical but to the intellectual and emotional conundrum of the future. He moves toward Laura as if to suggest that they figure out that future, and the new revolution, together.

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Even closer together.

[1] Jill Lane, “Smoking Habaneras, or A Cuban Struggle with Racial Demons,” Social Text 28 (3) Fall 2010: 27.



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Mapping colonial Havana & experimenting with digital tools

I started annotating a 1798 map of Havana, in Thinglink, to pinpoint major administrative and religious building and landmarks. Initially, I wanted to use the map to help me think through urban space for an article I am writing. The article focuses on a 1791 lawsuit against a merchant of paint and hardware, and it references the three stores he operated within the walled city. Now that I’ve found their approximate locations, I want to be able to discuss them in relationship to nearby buildings and landmarks. I love how Sherry Johnson, in The Social Transformation of Eighteenth-Century Cuba, orients the reader to Havana’s urban landscape through narrating a man’s arrival and subsequent movement through the city in 1764. She includes details on dock activity, sets a scene of daily life in the Plaza Mayor, and comments on major parishes and convents — all of this imbues her analysis with a sense of atmosphere.

So as I experiment with digital humanities tools, I’m giving Thinglink a try as a way to annotate the 1798 map. Created by Jose del Río, a captain in the Spanish Royal Navy, the map depicts the coastline around Havana, the entrance to the bay, and the walled city. The Huntington Library has a version as does the John Carter Brown Library, here.

1798 Descripción   del puerto y la Ciudad de La Habana por D. José del Río

José del Rio, Plano del puerto de la cuidad de La Havana, 1798

On the Thinglink map below, I’ve cropped it to focus on the area inside the city’s walls. I also flipped it so the top of the map points north, and my version is hand-colored. The 1798 map itself includes a legend with points of interest, so I started by plotting those on the Thinglink map (place mouse over to see markers). Now I’m slowly adding descriptive information from Johnson’s book and other sources. (One challenge of the del Río map is the lack of street names, but I might add those with markers.)

As a tool, I find Thinglink easy to use and navigate. I’m using the free educator’s version, so I can’t use italics/bold or insert links into text, which is unfortunate but not a dealbreaker. In comparison, I have used StoryMap to plot the three stores of the paint merchant, but I like the immediacy of simply hovering over points on the Thinglink map (no clicking needed). Also, I don’t like that points/markers I put on the StoryMap  disappear if your mouse is not placed over the map. With Thinglick, the points remain visible at all times, as far as I can tell. Storymap, in contrast, handles a fuller narrative better, allowing you to include slides with text next to the map.

Aside from mechanics, one issue I’ve come across is how to include cabildos, buildings that housed mutual aid associations for enslaved and free people of African descent, on the map. In 1792, the colonial government, via decree, ordered them out of the walled city, and it is difficult to tell when they moved in order to place them (or not) definitively on the 1798 map. Given how stringently the government controlled the movements of free people of color and the enslaved, I think it is important to show their physical imprint in the city via the cabildo locations. And, new work by scholars like Maria del Carmen Barcia, Henry Lovejoy, and Matt Childs makes it easier to locate them. (See, in particular, Henry Lovejoy’s map with Lucumí, or Yoruba, cabildo locations.) I’ve included one cabildo marker for now as I ponder how to include more.

Lastly, another challenge with Thinglink is how to depict routes across space. I made another map (below) that uses numbered markers (place mouse over to see them) to trace a typical carriage ride route for elites in 1811 Havana, but I think I prefer seeing lines on the map that mark the journey. Storymap might be better for that. More to come.


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Aponte Commemoration

In 2012, the Comisión Aponte, of the Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas in Havana, organized a bicentennial commemoration of the 1812 execution of José Antonio Aponte, a free man of color, carpenter, artist, and leader of slave rebellions. The commemoration included a series of events, such as a historical conference at the Casa del ALBA and a public ceremony at the Teatro Karl Marx, among others. Reports of these events appeared in Cuban media along with a number of other critical reflections on the legacy of Aponte. A common refrain in these reflections centers on the importance of Aponte as a national figure, especially for the anti-imperialist genealogy of the Cuban Revolution. The compilation of press below, a work in progress, is an attempt to trace the recent rhetoric related to the discussion of Aponte’s historical significance for the Cuban nation.

“Algunas miradas en la historiografía y la literatura cubana sobre José Antonio Aponte,” Félix Julio Alfonso López,, 7 de enero al 14 de enero de 2012
– “Al triunfo de la Revolución Cubana, la figura de José Antonio Aponte fue objeto de una definitiva revalorización de su imagen histórica, debida al reclamo realizado por Walterio Carbonell y a las investigaciones del acucioso historiador José Luciano Franco. Carbonell, en su libro de 1961 Cómo surgió la cultura nacional, denunciaba cómo algunos panegiristas que pasaban por radicales elogiaban a Arango y Parreño y a Saco, “en tanto que silencian el nombre de José Antonio Aponte, el primer gran batallador por la nacionalidad sin esclavitud ni coloniaje”, y enfatizaba: “Aponte, que preparó una conspiración para barrer con el sistema esclavista y la dominación y sus consejeros letrados, conspiración que de haber triunfado nos hubiera ahorrado casi un siglo de colonialismo y de incultura, su nombre es silenciado; es silenciado en tanto que los maestros y forjadores del sistema esclavista que se esforzaron por todos los medios de apuntalar la dominación colonial, son glorificados”.”

“Lugar de encuentro,”, 17 de enero de 2012
– “Es un prócer olvidado, marginado, distorsionado”, explicó Félix Julio, para quien resultan de gran importancia la conmemoración del bicentenario del levantamiento y el homenaje a un hombre que tenía una visión cubana de integración étnica —en la conspiración que organizó participaron esclavos, negros libres y también blancos— y eso era algo absolutamente novedoso y revolucionario en aquella época.”

“Historiadores cubanos recuerdan la conspiración de Aponte,”, 14 de febrero de 2012
– “La figura de Aponte se ignoró durante mucho tiempo en la historia del proceso de luchas de la emancipación del país. No fue hasta el centenario de la conspiración, en 1912, que se le hizo justicia. La historiografía tiene una gran deuda con él y no podíamos dejar pasar este bicentenario sin abordar el tema”, explicó, al inicio del encuentro, el Premio Nacional de Ciencias Sociales 2012, Oscar Zanetti.”

“La rebelión de Aponte de 1812 en Cuba y la lucha contra la esclavitud atlántica, de Matt D. Childs,” Fernando Martínez Heredia,, 18 de febrero a 24 de febrero de 2012
– “La rebelión de Aponte de 1812 en Cuba y la lucha contra la esclavitud atlántica, de Matt D. Childs es una prueba extraordinaria de ese desarrollo de la ciencia histórica. Pero es mucho más que eso. Resulta impresionante la cantidad de documentación primaria con que ha trabajado Childs, la rigurosidad extrema de ese trabajo y la precisión y hondura de sus comentarios acerca de sus fuentes. Pero aún más me ha impresionado el modo en que las aprovechó y la vastedad e intensidad de contenidos, matices, problemas y sugerencias al mismo tiempode los resultados que nos ofrece. La nota que precede a la tabla biográfica que elaboró sobre 329 esclavos y libres arrestados y/o castigados por participar en la rebelión de Aponte que publica como apéndicees un buen ejemplo de cómo un historiador puede sacarle un gran provecho a los elementos cuantitativos que ha logrado poner a su alcance y organizar. Pocas veces se ve en un solo libro tal riqueza de análisis, de inferencias, de síntesis, de tesis, proposiciones y comentarios, de articulación de asuntos y de relatos parciales para lograr un cuadro de conjunto.”    

“Historiadores cubanos debaten bicentenario de conspiración revolucionaria antiesclavista (I),” Dmitri Prieto,, 28 de febrero de 2012
– “Cuba participa solidariamente en los festejos latinoamericanos por el bicentenario de la independencia, pero no son muy conocidos los acontecimientos cubanos de hace 200 años, cuando un negro libre, carpintero y artista (ese era Aponte) se convirtió en uno de los primeros mártires de la historia revolucionaria cubana.”

Historiadores cubanos debaten bicentenario de conspiración revolucionaria antiesclavista (II),” Dmitri Prieto,, 6 de marzo de 2012
– “Fernando avanza críticamente, reivindicando a Aponte como protagonista de una “política de humildes” y antecesor de un “nacionalismo popular” que incluiría a Martí y su conspiración libertaria, popular y disciplinada, cuyo instrumento fue el Partido Revolucionario Cubano (1892-98).”

“Mártir del independentismo,” Pedro Antonio García,, 22 de marzo de 2012
-“Entre 1809 y 1810 se desarrollaron en Cuba los preparativos para una sublevación independentista. Indiscreciones cometidas pusieron a las autoridades coloniales sobre la pista del acaudalado criollo Román de la Luz Silveira, quien al decir de esas autoridades “promovía planes de independencia y rivalidad entre españoles europeos y americanos”, a la par que ultimaba planes insurreccionales para el 7 de octubre de 1810. Para ello contaba con la cooperación del capitán de milicias de caballería Luis Francisco Bassave y Cárdenas, criollo blanco habanero con gran ascendencia tanto entre la sociedad pudiente citadina como entre los negros y mulatos libres que integraban los batallones de pardos y morenos.”

“Un conspirador de ébano  en tiempos de tormentas,” Eduardo Torres-Cuevas,, 7 de abril a 13 de abril de 2012
– “”Más malo que Aponte”, es la frase que acuñó el colonialismo español y los temerosos esclavistas cubanos para desvalorar a la figura que representa la primera conspiración independentista y de transformación social cubana. La imagen de un despiadado negro, sediento de sangre e inspirado en el odio, fue la proyectada para ocultar sus verdaderas ideas y el proyecto social que él representaba y que estaba expandido por todo el Caribe. El prejuicio —que condiciona el juicio— fue utilizado para una aceptación acrítica de la calumnia y de la infamia. El temor sirvió para solidificar fronteras sociales y raciales. Pero la historia, como materia de un conocimiento, es mucho más compleja que las simplificaciones manualistas de la historia como conocimiento de esa materia. ¿Por qué se presentó a Aponte como el más monstruoso personaje de nuestra historia?”

“José Antonio Aponte, icono de la subalternidad,” María del Carmen Barcia,, 8 de abril de 2012
– “No es difícil entender las intenciones de Aponte con respecto a este manual. Un libro no es sólo un conjunto de hojas encuadernadas, manuscritas o impresas, sino una forma adecuada de trasmitir ideas y conocimientos, de sentar pautas, de divulgar un mensaje. La mayor parte de los negros y mulatos de Cuba eran analfabetos por lo que un documento escrito necesitaba pasar, para estar a su alcance, por la interpretación de otros, la imagen, sin embargo, podía trasmitir de inmediato el mensaje del autor. El libro de Aponte estaba destinado, sin dudas, a ese público y fue construido para mostrar a los negros que su pasado descansaba en tradiciones ilustres y que estaba alejado de la oprobiosa cotidianeidad de la esclavitud y del desprecio hacia el subalterno del que eran víctimas, posiblemente su principal propósito fuera el de proporcionar una historia de cierto lustre y distinción a los negros y mulatos.”

“José Antonio Aponte, dos siglos en la memoria,” Luis Pavón Massó,, 9 de abril de 2012
– “Era pues, artista de la madera y profesional de las armas. Su amor, su máxima devoción, era la libertad, en favor de la cual fraguó la conspiración antiesclavista y antiespañola que abarcó a gran parte de la Isla y, además de La Habana, tuvo manifestaciones en Holguín y Bayamo, entre otros puntos de la geografía cubana, y fue sangrientamente reprimida Peñas Altas, territorio habanero.”

“Homenaje a Aponte en el bicentenario de su asesinato,”, 9 de abril de 2012
– “Los 200 años del asesinato de José Antonio Aponte fueron recordados hoy, en acto celebrado en el capitalino parque Karl Marx, con representación de todos los sectores de la sociedad cubana.”

“José Antonio Aponte: una historia poco contada,”, 9 de abril de 2012,
– “Por suerte para la historiografía cubana -dijo- hoy rescatamos la figura de Aponte como un verdadero revolucionario de la época, de gran cultura autodidacta, luchador antiesclavista y líder del primer movimiento independentista y abolicionista de carácter nacional.”

“José Antonio Aponte: relectura de su epopeya,” Ernesto Limia Díaz,, 26 de abril de 2012
– “Entonces salió de las sombras de extramuros el habanero José Antonio Aponte y Ulabarra, negro libre que influido por la gesta independentista de Estados Unidos y, principalmente, por los ideales que defendió la Revolución de Haití, resolvió dar cuerpo a los sentimientos de irritación existentes entre libertos y esclavos, y organizó un levantamiento en la capita, con el cual se proponía derrocar al gobierno colonial.”

“Cuba’s Aponte: Absence and Vindication,” Dmitri Prieto,, April 16, 2013
– “Cuba’s cultural colonialism and racist prejudices have prevented the erection of a statue or monument in honor of the black leader at this historic site. In 2012, two hundred years after Aponte’s execution, a governmental commission made up of prestigious scholars was supposed to settle this outstanding debt, but bureaucratic hurdles have, to this day, impeded the creation of anything remotely resembling the proposed monument. And, word has it, it was to be an interesting memorial indeed: a statue of a triumphal Aponte, crushing an iron cage, similar to the one that once held his head, under his boot.

Two years ago, during a scientific and cultural symposium organized by Havana’s African Culture Center (Casa de África), a renowned scholar suggested that a fundraiser be held to finance the construction of the monument, a common practice before the Revolution. But the proposal “fizzled out”, as we say in Cuba. So, we have a government commission and no popular participation in the matter…and still no monument to Aponte.”

 “Homenaje perpetuo a la conspiracion de Aponte,” Lázaro David Najarro Pujol, Boletín de la Comisión de Aponte, número 10, 24 de enero de 2013
– “La otrora villa de Santa María del Puerto Príncipe (hoy Camagüey) se ha convertido en la primera gran ciudad de Cuba en la que se devela un sitio que perpetúa la memoria de quienes participaron en el movimiento de objetivos antiesclavistas y separatistas en la isla, a inicios del siglo XIX.”

 “José Antonio Aponte: precursor de la independencia nacional cubana,” Ernesto Limia Díaz, La, 12 de abril al 18 de abril de 2014
– “Durante 150 años su figura se utilizó por las autoridades coloniales y las clases sociales en el poder, para demonizar su ejemplo redentor; solo al triunfo de la Revolución Cubana comenzó a contarse su historia. Se impone una pregunta: ¿Qué pasó?”


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Santa en la revista Social, diciembre de 1919

santa dic 1919

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Nochebuena en Cuba, 1824

The Spaniard Francisco Dionisio Vives arrived to Cuba in 1823 and served as captain general of the island through 1832. Vives ruled Cuba in the wake of independence movements in the rest of the colonial Americas and in the midst of the explosion of sugar production and the slave trade in Cuba. As an agent of the restored absolutist reign of Spanish King Ferdinand VII, he was the first to govern Cuba with facultades omnímodas (akin to martial law).

In 1828, Vives enacted a Bando de buen gobierno, a decree that established regulations to order daily life, and included previous regulations issued under one of his predecessors, Juan Manuel Cajigal y Martínez. In general, Spanish urbanization in the colonies aimed to inculcate policía, an expression of civilized life. Vives’ Bando addressed a range of aspects of urban life that the colonial government aspired to order and control – from the proper veneration of the Holy Sacrament to the prohibition of brothels to the mandatory education of all children over the 10 years old to the appropriate treatment of enslaved men and women.

Vives added regulations to the Bando, after its initial creation, one of which concerned the celebration of Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) so as to “prevent the disorder that might be experienced.” The regulation, emitted on December 23, 1824, ordered the closure of all taverns, bars, bodegas, restaurants “and any other location that sells food or drinks” when prayers commenced for Christmas Eve. Further, the regulation stated, only citizens headed to church for Christmas mass were to be out in public. And, they should proceed with the “moderation required, without making a ruckus or playing music, or other instruments that that would disturb the public tranquility.”


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On the management of life in a slave society

From the Actas Capitulares del Ayuntamiento de La Habana, on August 8, 1817, an appeal to create a separate cemetery for negros bozales (recently arrived enslaved men and women). Previously, the men and women who died in the barracks had been buried in the same cemetery as non-Catholics at the price of six pesos and four reales; in contrast, fees for the burial of foreigners and non-Catholics could be up to thirty pesos.

“Sobre cementerio de bozales: Se leyó un oficio dirigido para D. Leon Ruiz de Azua con fha de dos del corriente encargado de recaudar los dros. que produsca el cementerio de los no católicos y de dar las disposiciones necesarias para el mejor orden por el qual manifiesta todo lo que en el asunto se ha remediado y concluye manifestando lo útil que sería formar otro deposito para bozales de donde se proporcionaria una entrada justa a este Cuerpo, y que este se haría en un arenal que no pertenezca a un dueño determinado proponiendo lo que ha rendido en este año y lo fácil de su construcción para separarlos delos extranjeros. En su inteligencia se acordó pase al D. Ciriaco de Arango para que arregle la material en los terminos que le paresca estar justo.”

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Links on a Wednesday

- August newsletter of the Cuban Heritage Collection at the University of Miami

“While Freitas thumbed through those records, Bastos was warning of a future in which some music might disappear unnoticed. Most of the American and British records Freitas has collected have already been digitally preserved. But in countries like Brazil, Cuba and Nigeria, Bastos estimated, up to 80 percent of recorded music from the mid-20th century has never been transferred.”

Cuba to Build First Catholic Church in Decades

New online resource: Digitisation of endangered African diaspora collections at the major archives of the province of Matanzas, Cuba 

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A large group of men and women around a man and a woman dancing
c. 1900-1920
George Ranch Museum Collection, University of North Texas Libraries

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An Havana Cafe, Interior, Havana, Cuba
c. 1898-1931
Wallach Division, Photography Collection, New York Public Library

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