The unheard voice of law in Bartolome de Las Casas's "Brevisima relacion de la destruicion de las Indias"

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Title: The unheard voice of law in Bartolome de Las Casas's "Brevisima relacion de la destruicion de las Indias"
Author: Orique, David Thomas, 1959-
Abstract: The organizing principle of this dissertation is that Las Casas's most famous work, the Brevisima relacion , is primarily an intricately reasoned legal argument against the excesses of early Spanish colonialism rather than a fiery polemical diatribe by the "first human rights activist." Contrary to such anachronistic (though enduringly popular) characterization, this study employs a historical perspective to view this influential text as belonging to the genres of the early modern juridical tradition. Accordingly, this investigation begins by examining the historical matrix of fifteenth-century and early sixteenth-century Spain to properly contextualize Las Casas's early life and certain initial colonial institutions of the Spanish Indies. Similarly, his juridical expertise is firmly rooted in an explication of his contemporaneous formation in canon law and theology. From these foundational strands of his life and work, his maturing juridical voice spoke most decisively in certain of the major debates among Spanish jurists, theologians, and politicians--as well as in the Brevísima relación --in the wake of the Iberian "discovery" of what was for all concerned a physical as well as philosophical "New World." The combined focus of subsequent chapters elucidates the fundamentally juridical dimensions of the text, beginning with the specific context accompanying its genesis in 1542 until its publication a decade later. The treatise's legal character as an official publication based on various evidentiary sources is further revealed by the text's triple function--to inform, to denounce, and to petition, which in turn corresponds to the genres of relaciones, denuncias , and peticiones of the civil juridical tradition. The Brevísima relación 's content unveils far more than this; the epistemological rationale and analytic framework are intimately linked to canonistic, Thomistic, and biblical genres of the ecclesial juridical tradition. Continuing this historical investigation, the concluding chapter demonstrates anew the fundamental grounding of Las Casas's approach in the vibrant first generations of juristic discourse of the so-called Spanish colonial era. His multifaceted juridical voice was distinctively encoded in a powerful melding of civil and ecclesial legal traditions. This dissertation intends to communicate this voice intelligibly with the proper accents of the past.
Description: xiv, 485 p.
Date: 2011-06

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