Inaugural Lecture of the Institute for Critical Inquiry into Global Change
"On the Creation of 'New' World Humans"
Presented by Dr. Gerard Aching, Cornell University
The realization that the Scriptures and European letters could not account for the lands that Columbus and other explorers encountered in their quests to reach the Indies gave rise to urgent attempts to make sense of a suddenly enlarged globe. Who would legitimately rule the hemisphere? On what bases could sovereignty be established there? In the face of such legal, epistemological, and disciplinary challenges, the new colonies became modern sites of human experimentation, especially as the latter pertained to labor. That such experiments should extend to the creation of new human types is the subject of this lecture.
Gerard Aching describes and examines two ways of conceiving and differentiating humans that emerged for the first time in the Americas: the 16th-century scholastic invention of the “Indian” in order to rationalize the extension of European sovereignty to this side of the Atlantic; and the adoption in 17th-century Virginia of partus sequitur ventrem—the statute that determined that the child born to an enslaved woman inherited her condition. Historically, both examples assigned and subjected human communities to oppressive, socially regulated temporalities that have been consequential for modern conceptualizations of human difference such as race.
This research interrogates the stakes and consequences of fashioning humans for a “new” world.
Reception to follow the lecture, Mondale Commons