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Celso Thomas Castilho

Assistant Professor of History

Celso Thomas Castilho is an Assistant Professor of History with research and teaching interests in comparative slavery and abolition, citizenship and theater, and the cultural politics of the African diaspora. His book Slave Emancipation and Transformations in Brazilian Political Citizenship (Pittsburgh, 2016) probes the wide-ranging effects of the process on abolition on popular political practice and the racial borders of national belonging. It follows an edited volume Castilho co-organized in Brazil, Tornando-se Livre (EDUSP, 2015), and two-prize winning articles published in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Currently, he is writing a book on antislavery, race, and theater in the Atlantic world, focusing on the dramatic representations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Expanding the periodization of the abolition debates, Slave Emancipation brings to the fore an era of mass politics between the 1860s and 1880s that scholars had previously overlooked, if in large part because of the tendency to structure abolition studies around the question of who caused the ending of slavery. Crossing data from the press, associational records, freedom lawsuits, theater, and legislative debates, Castilho demonstrates how the enslaved’s pursuits for freedom set in motion an abolitionist movement and a pro-slavery reaction that fiercely disputed not just the terms of freedom, but also the boundaries of the political arena. It was thus this popular, interracial, and unprecedented challenge to the rules of the political game that fired the counter-movement for “order and progress.” Longstanding processes of political contestation, then, were central to the racialization of mass politics in the late-nineteenth century. By historicizing the ebbs and flows of political citizenship, this book draws nuanced parallels to the discussions on political culture, popular liberalism, and the public sphere that have revitalized the historiography on Spanish America. Additionally, Slave Emancipation also establishes new grounds for interrogating the interrelated histories of slavery and democracy in the Atlantic world.

Tentatively titled, “The Trans-American Repertoires of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Theater, Antislavery, and Blackness in Brazil, Mexico, and the US,” this book establishes the broad resonance of slavery in public politics across the Americas. It brings fresh attention to the Uncle Tom phenomenon in Latin America, and analyzes the local registers of the play in light of national issues, as well as, the wider racial and gender ramifications of Atlantic slavery. This study, of course, also reckons with the dramatic performances proper. In signaling the sometimes fascinating, sometimes harrowing, variations in Uncle Tom shows in Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and New York City, this work thus presents theater as constitutive of hemispheric cultural imaginaries; it turns to the theatrical stage to explore how representing slavery in general, and “social life in the US,” more specifically, compromised renderings of blackness.

Selected Publications

  • Slave Emancipation and Transformations in Brazilian Political Citizenship (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016).
  • 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)
  • A Global History of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (forthcoming)
  • Research Seminar in Latin American History (graduate)
  • Performance and Citizenship in the Americas (graduate)
  • Race in the Americas (graduate)
  • Histories and Historiographies of Modern Latin America (graduate)

Celso Thomas Castilho was born in São Paulo, Brazil, and raised in Los Angeles, California. He is a product of the University of California system: BA (Berkeley), MA in Latin American Studies (UCLA), and PhD (Berkeley).