UCSB Latin American and Iberian Studies Program

Juan Cobo Betancourt

Assistant Professor

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My research to date has been concerned with questions of race, language, law, and religious conversion in colonial Latin America, with a special emphasis on the New Kingdom of Granada, which was the region broadly corresponding to modern-day Colombia. This was a peripheral region in Spanish America, but was nevertheless closely connected to the global networks of exchange of knowledge, people, and ideas that spanned the early modern world. My work has sought to apply interdisciplinary and comparative methods to take advantage of this distinctive perspective to throw new light on important themes in early-modern social and cultural history, and at the same time to refocus the study of this region by exploring it in a broader, global context.

My first book, Mestizos heraldos de Dios, was concerned with emerging ideas of race and difference in the early modern world by setting a controversy over the ordination of priests of mixed indigenous and European descent, mestizos, in New Granada against the backdrop of similar debates at the time in other regions of Spanish America, East and West Africa, India, and Japan.

I am currently preparing a monograph concerning the profound transformations undergone by indigenous communities in the central highlands of New Granada — known as the Muisca — in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a result of the efforts of the colonial administration to convert them to Catholic Christianity, in the broader context of the global movement of religious renewal and reformation that was spearheaded by the Council of Trent. I am interested, on one hand, on the changing concerns and priorities of European Catholic missionaries active in New Granada, who proposed a variety of strategies and methods. And on the other, on how these efforts were received by the Muisca: how the incidence of these global trends created new means through which they could engage with Christianity, negotiate their place in colonial society, and pursue their interests during a period of intense change.

I am also engaged in collaborative projects concerning early modern legal history, religious social institutions, and indigenous languages.

Alongside my work as an historian, I co-founded a non-profit foundation devoted to digitising the holdings of endangered archives and libraries in Colombia, making the results available and accesible online for free, and promoting the digital humanities (www.neogranadina.org).


Mestizos Heraldos de Dios: la ordenación de sacerdotes descendientes de españoles e indígenas en el Nuevo Reino de Granada y la racialización de la diferencia, c.1573-1590 [Mestizo Heralds of God: the ordination of priests descended from Spaniards and Indians and the racialization of difference] (Bogotá, Colombia: Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia, 2012).

“Colonialism in the periphery: Spanish linguistic policy in the New Kingdom of Granada, c. 1574-1625”, Colonial Latin American Review 23, no. 2 (11 June 2014), pp. 118-142. [https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10609164.2014.917540]


My teaching and research focus on the history of colonial Latin America (16th-18th centuries) and especially on the social and cultural history of the Andean region, but I am also interested in broader comparisons and global perspectives on issues such as:

Religious conversion and colonialism.
Languages in colonial contexts.
Race and identity in the early modern world.
The history of law and normativity.

I welcome graduate students interested in these and any other subjects related to my research.