3. How did you become interested in Inquisition cases?
I was interested in the religious practices of Africans and their descendants, including Christianity. So one place to look for that is the Inquisition because the Inquisition is a body that is designed by the state to regulate Christian practice. Particularly in witchcraft cases, where people are doing something thats not conforming to Christian practice, you learn something about their ritual practices.
The Inquisition documents are a great set of sources. Theres a lot of information about peoples everyday lives. And then there are just scads of these renunciation cases. This is a crime that is closely associated with people identified as blacks and mulattoes. This case interested me because it was the case of a woman whose boss was also a woman, this nun Juana de la Cruz. The action takes place in a convent, so you can find out a lot about womens lives.
As a historian, I am always concerned with issues of production and also issues of audience. The records of Inquisition cases were generally created for other officials, so they werent published. Everything happened in private. The cases were often sent to the court in Madrid, so that some cases end up in Spain. Im interested in knowing who was involved, who the accused person was, what was the relationship between the accused person and the person that was accusing him or her, when the events happened.
These Inquisition cases are very popular for historians of colonial Latin America because they give so much information about people who are not going to show up in a lot of other records. I also have used records from religious organizations called confraternities to find out more about the religious lives of Africans and their descendants. There were huge numbers of Africans and then Creole blacks and mulattoes in New Spain, and yet its very difficult to find information about them. Inquisition cases include genealogies.
Another good source for the lives of Africans and their descendants are wills. In wills, there are inventories. You can find out about peoples family lives because of who they left money to. You can find out about their membership in religious associations because people will mention the confraternities that they belong to in their wills. You can find out about their financial lives by looking at what they left. One will I read that was written by a freed slave, one of the things he listed in his inventory was a piece of old cheese.