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Department of History

Contact Information

phone: 615-322-5948
123 Benson Hall

Office Hours

summer, no office hours


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. This book will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2016.

I am currently writing another book titled “The Dramas of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the Americas.” It demonstrates the broad importance of slavery in daily life across the hemisphere. I have selected three cities—Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and New York City—as entry points because these were where the Uncle Tom dramas first became popular in these respective countries. The play enjoyed great success in each place, and yet was produced from notably different scripts. My book is the first to establish a relationship between these different representations, and to call attention to the Uncle Tom phenomenon in Latin America. On one level, my work probes the local registers of the play and considers the performances as fostering trans-American cultural and political imaginaries. On another, I am interested in the wider social implications of staging slavery and antislavery, and the role of theater as a site of racial and gender formations.

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.