Skip to main content

Celso Thomas Castilho

Associate 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, and literature and theater in the nineteenth century. 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 which also sparked broader debates about the scale and scope of the political field itself; about who got to set the terms and rules of political discourse, and about what defined the forms and boundaries of political action? 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 we understand the ebbs and flows of the political arena. 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. Broadly, it provides a fresh look at the intellectual and literary histories of Latin America by reconsidering the mutually-influencing processes of slavery and the articulation of literary networks, the press, and the cultural field more generally. Tentatively titled, The Latin American Repertoires of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Slavery, Intellectual History, and the Literary Field, the book analyzes the reception of Uncle Tom in Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Lima and Buenos Aires—places where the story resonated widely 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 had also registered in Latin America before and after Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 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 initial publications on the project appear in The Americas and Historia Mexicana, respectively. 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. A second article focuses on Uncle Tom theater in Mexico City. 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,” slated for publication in Oct.-Dec. 2019.

Selected Publications


  • Slave Emancipation and Transformations in Brazilian Political Citizenship (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016).
  • The Latin American Repertoires of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Slavery, Intellectual History, and the Literary Field (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, “The Press and Brazilian Narratives of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Slavery and the Public Sphere in Rio de Janeiro, ca. 1855,” The Americas, 76:1 (January, 2019): 77-106.
  • 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, 69:2, Oct.-Dec. 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.


  • 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.