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Department of History

Contact Information

phone: 615-322-5948
123 Benson Hall

Office Hours

Tuesday, 3:00-4:30 pm, and by appointment


PhD, UC Berkeley, 2008

Celso Thomas Castilho

Assistant Professor of History

Celso Thomas Castilho is an Assistant Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, where he was hired initially as a post-doctoral fellow in 2008.  His research and teaching interests align around the themes of performance and citizenship, racial and gender formations, and comparative slavery and abolition. With Professor Jane Landers, he co-directs the Circum-Atlantic Studies Seminar, funded by the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities.

His first book, "Transformations of Brazilian Citizenship: Public Politics in the Age of Emancipation," demonstrates the salient shifts in the ideals and practices of Brazilian citizenship that emerged from and shaped the processes of slave emancipation in the late-nineteenth century. It accomplishes this through a focus on the makings and broad ramifications of the abolitionist mobilizations, offering a nuanced and deeply researched account of the surprisingly wide range of people behind Brazil’s first national social movement. The slaves, law students, printers, women, politicians, and theatrical artists at the center of this activism recreated the terms and means through which people claimed their place in the body politic. In an era of restricted suffrage and in a nation where slaveholding had long buttressed citizens’ public standing, they drew on a political repertoire ranging from street rallies to journalism to theater. The abolitionist movement posited a model of citizenship predicated on freedom and broad political participation that established new parameters for future debates over political inclusion and exclusion. Doubtless, these unprecedented turns in popular political empowerment challenged a political order. Slaveowners, too, formed coalitions and enacted their own version of public politics, premised on ideas of citizenship that preserved elite political control. If unable to stem the onset of abolition, they vied to control the political process. The struggle for slave emancipation, then, also signified a struggle to shape the country’s political future.

The second book is provisionally entitled, “The Dramas of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the Americas, 1850s-1880s,” and draws on three case studies—Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and Washington, DC—to analyze the links between Uncle Tom performances, racial and gender formations, and the practices of citizenship. It utilizes a hemispheric lens to illuminate how these varied representations fostered the makings of trans-American literary and political imaginaries. At its core, the book sustains that theatrical performances, and the multiple strands of urban life that constituted the world of theater, including, actors and audiences, dramatic and literary associations, and the press deserve serious consideration because they reflected and fed the structuring of social hierarchies in these disparate contexts. This focus also highlights the material and symbolic importance of the theater as a place and practice that changed the codes of political activity and forms of popular political participation over the late-nineteenth century.

Selected Publications

  • Maria Helena P.T. Machado and Celso Thomas Castilho, eds., Tornando-se Livre: agentes históricos e lutas sociais no processo de abolição,(São Paulo: EDUSP, 2015).
    • Celso Thomas Castilho, “Propõe-se a Qualquer Consignação, Menos de Escravos”: o problema da emancipação no Recife, ca. 1870,” in Tornando-se Livre, 277-92.
  • Celso Thomas Castilho, “Performing Abolitionism, Enacting Citizenship: The Social Construction of Political Rights in 1880s Recife, Brazil,” Hispanic American Historical Review 93:3 (August, 2013): 377-410.
  • Celso Castilho and Camillia Cowling, “Funding Freedom, Popularizing Politics: Abolitionism and Local Emancipation Funds in 1880s Brazil,” Luso-Brazilian Review, 47:1 (Spring, 2010): 89-120.

Recent Awards & Fellowships

  • 2014 winner of the Kimberly S. Hanger Article Prize, awarded annually by the Latin American and Caribbean Section of the Southern Historical Association, for the article, “Performing Abolitionism, Enacting Citizenship: The Social Construction of Political Rights in 1880s Recife, Brazil.”
  • 2012-2013, Fellow, Robert Penn Warren Center Sawyer Seminar Fellow, Age of Emancipation: Black Freedom in the Atlantic World. Vanderbilt University.
  • 2011 Conference of Latin American History Award for Best Article: “Funding Freedom”.
  • 2009 Lewis Hanke Award, AHA/CLAH Post-Graduate Fellowship, Summer, 2010.


  • History of Brazil (undergraduate)
  • Methods and Practice of History (undergraduate)
  • Race and Nation in Latin America (undergraduate)
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Hemispheric and Transnational Perspective (forthcoming)
  • Histories and Historiographies of modern Latin America (graduate)
  • Performance and Citizenship in the Americas (graduate)
  • Race in the Americas (graduate, forthcoming)

Celso Thomas Castilho was born in São Paulo, Brazil, and raised in Los Angeles, California. He obtained an MA in Latin American Studies from UCLA, before completing the PhD at UC Berkeley, where he also studied as an undergraduate.