Skip to main content

Celso Thomas Castilho

Assistant Professor of History

Celso Thomas Castilho’s research and teaching focus on modern Latin America and the Atlantic world, with a specialization in Brazilian studies, and thematic emphases in comparative slavery and emancipation, citizenship and the public sphere, literature and the press, performance, and Afro-diasporic thought. His first book, Slave Emancipation and Transformations in Brazilian Political Citizenship (Pittsburgh, 2016) is a study of the interrelated histories of slavery and politics that sheds new light on the problem of political citizenship. It demonstrates that enslaved people’s struggles for freedom through the courts, associational activism, and flight set in motion wide-ranging anti and pro-slavery mobilizations; that the abolition debate, then, also became a debate about who had the right to set the terms and forms of the political field. Thus, rather than just re-engaging extant debates about the causes of abolition, the book reveals the history of slavery to be integral to how understand the ebbs and flows of the political arena in the late-nineteenth-century, and to how we narrate the longer arc of Brazilian politics more generally. Slave Emancipation has been recognized by top prizes offered by the Conference on Latin American History and the Brazilian Studies Association. It follows Tornando-se Livre (EDUSP, 2015), a volume co-edited with Maria Helena Machado of the University of São Paulo, and earlier prize-winning articles on performance, public politics, and abolitionism published in 2010 and 2013, respectively.

His current book project is on the circulation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Latin America. It places Latin American literature and theater at the center of a global intellectual history of slavery. Tentatively titled, The Latin American Repertoires of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: An Intellectual History of Atlantic Slavery, the project analyzes the reception of Uncle Tom in Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Lima and Buenos Aires—places where the story resonated deeply in serial, theatrical, and book forms. The book also reckons with other literary representations of slavery that originated in Paris, Madrid, and Lisbon, and that registered significantly in Latin America; it thus situates the Uncle Tom phenomenon within a broader, multi-lingual field of representations of slavery. At stake here, on one hand, is a deeper appreciation of slavery’s cultural impact, which will help illuminate the public processes that normalized slaveholding, and entrenched its racialist and gendered underpinnings; processes that played an important, but as of yet under-theorized role in explaining the persistence of slavery in nineteenth-century Latin America. On the other hand, this deeper appreciation of the representations of slavery, and the structures that fostered them—press, book, and theater—also promises to raise new questions about how we conceive of Latin American thought, writ large. In emphasizing the far-reaching influence that Atlantic slavery had on the production and circulation of literary genres, and on the contours of the cultural field itself, these projects will lead to a significant rewriting of the themes, people, and genres that are conventionally at the center of the literary and intellectual histories of the nineteenth century.

Castilho’s first publications on the project are forthcoming in 2019 in peer-reviewed journals. A January 2019 article in The Americas delves into a female teacher’s 1855 serialized adaptation in Rio de Janeiro, and its relationship to contemporaneous discussions of slavery. Another article focuses on Uncle Tom theater in Mexico City, and from situating the play’s trans-Atlantic origins (Spain), it explores the interplay between Atlantic and local iterations of blackface. The latter piece forms part of a special issue that Castilho is co-organizing with Marcela Echeverri of Yale University on “los ecos atlánticos de las aboliciones hispanoamericanas,” that will appear in Historia Mexicana in late 2019.

He has also begun publishing on a third book project that deals with transformations in Atlantic literary genres through a cultural focus on the Black press in the southern cone. Tentatively titled, The Black Press in Latin America: Race, Literature, and Power in the Age of Liberalism, the book places Afro-Latin American studies in wider hemispheric and Atlantic contexts, and raises important questions about subjectivity, literary genres, public life, and the social history of the press that are integral to understanding the history of Latin American liberalism. For example, Castilho has a forthcoming chapter on a Black newspaper from 1870s northeastern Brazil where he analyzes how a specific column called “The Gallery of Illustrious Men of Color,” reframed the wider, trans-Atlantic genre of “illustrious men” writings to which it belonged. That is, whereas the tendency is to think of Black newspapers mainly through resistance paradigms, I grapple with how local disputes over the racial boundaries of belonging were also embedded in the trans-Atlantic exchanges of literary currents, and that a reconsideration of the Black press through the lenses of intellectual and public-sphere history will alter how we understand the press and these genres themselves. In its final form, this book project will map the intellectual contours of a hemispheric Black press in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay in the mid-nineteenth-century.

Selected Publications

Books:

  • Slave Emancipation and Transformations in Brazilian Political Citizenship (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016).
  • The Latin American Repertoires of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: An Intellectual History of Slavery (in-progress)
  • The Black Press in Latin America: Race, Literature, and Power in the Age of Liberalism (in-progress)

Edited Volumes:

 Journal Articles:

  • Celso Thomas Castilho, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Press, and Slavery in Brazilian Public Life: Rio de Janeiro, ca. 1855,” The Americas (forthcoming, January 2019).
  • Celso Thomas Castilho, “La cabaña del Tío Tom (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), la esclavitud atlántica y la racialización de la esfera pública en la Ciudad de México de mediados del siglo XIX,” Historia Mexicana, (forthcoming, 2019).
  • 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.

Book Chapters:

  • Celso Thomas Castilho, “Abolition and its Aftermath in Brazil,” in Cambridge World History of Slavery: Vol 4. 1804 to the Present Day, eds. Seymour Drescher, David Eltis, Stanley Engerman, and David Richardson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 486-509.
  • 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.

Awards & Fellowships

  • 2018 Bolton-Johnson Book Prize from the Conference of Latin American History
  • 2018 Warren Dean Book Prize from the Conference of Latin American History
  • 2018 Roberto Reis Book Prize from the Brazilian Studies Association
  • 2016-17 SEC Faculty Travel Program. Lectured at the University of Alabama.
  • 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.

Courses

  • History of Brazil (undergraduate)
  • Social Movements in Latin America, 1780s-1910s (undergraduate)
  • Methods and Practice of History (undergraduate)
  • Race and Nation in Latin America (undergraduate and graduate)
  • Research Seminar in Latin American History (graduate)
  • Performance and Citizenship 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 earned a BA in history at UC Berkeley, an MA in Latin American Studies at UCLA, and returned to Berkeley to complete a doctorate in history.