Amanda Summers, Carpenter Fellow in Early American Religious Studies at the McNeil Center, studies the Inquisition and Latin America. Her dissertation focuses on the intersection of gender, race, and religion in the Iberian Atlantic through the lens of the treatment of bodies in the prisons of the Inquisition. We spoke with Summers about her dissertation topic, her passion for research, and the places her research has taken her.
Q: How did you become interested in your dissertation topic?
Summers: I became interested in the Inquisition and Latin America during my undergraduate at the University of Nevada, Reno, thanks to my first mentor Dr. Linda Curcio. My interest in the institution as part of a larger Atlantic and American system developed while I was doing my Ph.D. at Temple University. The COVID shutdown hit while I was very early in my research process, and access to archives was limited. I was living in Mexico City studying the colonial center and its religious structures, and the archivists at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center and Notre Dame University’s Hesburgh Library were able to send me digitizations of a few connected sources they had from the trials of Mexico’s massive 1649 auto de fe. That triggered a years-long search that took me around most of the world to find all of the people associated with these trials and I became obsessed with how interconnected seemingly unrelated events during the seventeenth century actually were.
Q: Who is an author that you think more early Americanists should read?
Summers: I feel like I am forever the person pushing Americanists to read more Latin Americanists, so my reading recommendations will always be from there, and I can never pick just one. And I’m also always thinking about the intersections of religion, gender, race, and sex, so my recommendations also will come from there. But I think we should all read Maria Elena Martinez, Ana Maria Diaz Burgos, María Jesús Zamora Calvo, Fernando Cervantes, Martha Few, Nora Jaffary, Zeb Tortorici… I could go on.
Q: What is the primary source you’ve most enjoyed using in your research?
Summers: My favorite primary source I have used has to be the three trials against Paula de Eguiluz from the Holy Office in Cartagena de Indias. Several historians have written about her because her cases cover a long portion of her life and are well-preserved, very in-depth, and allow for any number of lenses of examining sex, magic, gender, medicine, race, and any other topics in the seventeenth-century Caribbean. She had her finger on the pulse of the region for decades from Cuba to Cartagena and leveraged a huge amount of social capital in her later trials. I think she must be the most interesting and brilliant woman I’ve encountered in any archive. I write primarily about her first case and her mastery of controlling the spaces she was in and the people she encountered. There were times she had me laughing at her wit and feeling emotions of love and longing or frustration and exasperation alongside her. It’s really a remarkable record. When I was doing research in Cartagena, I went to the museum that is now in the Inquisition building, and they have a cartoon short of her playing on a loop. I was so overjoyed to see her represented there, I watched it over and over again. I think they did a great job telling her story in the video.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about the research process?
Summers: I have been extremely lucky in the places I have been able to do research. It has taken me all over the US, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru. Traveling to immerse myself in the place, culture, and local public history of my topic locations has been just about the most rewarding thing I could imagine. It has given me friends in many countries, a deeper understanding of the world and of people, and memories for a lifetime. But alongside spending my time in these incredible places, I get to read some of the coolest sources. I truly love research. I love being in the archive, connecting with people from the past, and seeing how what matters to people on an individual level really doesn’t change so much over time and place.
Q: What are you most enjoying about your Fellowship at the McNeil Center?
Summers: I really enjoy being in daily fellowship with the rest of the fellows here at the Center. The way I think has changed so much in the past few months just from all the sharing of ideas and feedback and workshopping we do. We always have a great reading recommendation for each other to work through our theoretical roadblocks. My writing is already improving so much. And it’s a very supportive environment as we’re all in such similar places with writing our dissertations and preparing for the job market. I love that while we are all in similar fields and can offer support and useful recommendations, we all have very unique topics and never feel pitted in competition with each other. We are truly helping each other grow into excellent scholars.
Amanda Summers is the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Fellow in Early American Religious Studies at the McNeil Center and a Ph.D. Candidate at Temple University. To learn more about Summers’s work, visit her dissertation summary.