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Daniel Dawson

Graduate Student

Daniel  Dawson

Mcgraw Hall, Room B21

Educational Background

BA in History (2016), Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
MA in World History (2018), James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA



I am a historian of early modern Latin America, the Caribbean and the Atlantic world. My research focuses on the mobile lived experiences of people of African descent, both free and enslaved, living in the New Kingdom of Granada (modern-day Colombia) during the seventeenth century. My research involves the social, cultural, religious, legal and military history of people of African descent in New Granada, and the interactions between African-descended people and European populations, particularly Spanish civil, military and religious authorities. Mobility is key to my research, as I study the movement of people of African descent not only across the Atlantic, but also within Spanish America as they moved between various locations in the Spanish Caribbean and New Granada - in their capacities as working healers, as defendants brought before the Inquisition, and as resistance fighters engaged in guerilla warfare against Spanish forces.  

My dissertation project focuses on dynamic religious, cultural and social networks constructed by people of African descent living under Spanish rule in New Granada, centered in the coastal Caribbean port city of Cartagena de Indias. My research touches on multiple facets of African life in Spanish America. First, I am interested in the religious beliefs and practices of people of African descent living in and near Cartagena, and their interactions with Catholic authorities (particularly the Holy Office of the Inquisition). Religious and healing practitioners of African descent took part in dynamic networks of trade and competition in the healing markets of Cartagena, and their work often took them to multiple locations both within the city and in the surrounding areas. Second, I am interested in the history of palenques, or free towns founded by self-liberated Africans who escaped slavery. Such settlements were reliant on networks of African-descended people living in Cartagena and nearby towns, farms and mines in order to procure supplies, information and new recruits. Palenques presented a concrete challenge to Spanish rule in New Granada, and engaged in military conflicts with Spanish forces over the course of the seventeenth century. Palenque communities in the wilderness and communities of African religious practitioners in the city alike were cause for concern and anxiety among Spanish authorities in Cartagena, who saw it as their mission to pacify, control and Christianize African-descended populations under their jurisdiction.

My research investigates what the reactions of Spanish authorities to such activities among Afro-New Granadans tell us about 1) interactions between European and African-descended actors in the New World, 2) how Spanish elites perceived African subjects and 3) how Spanish authorities devised methods of control and domination, and how people of African adapted to and resisted these circumstances. My research, then, studies not only the lives of African subjects under Spanish imperialism, but also how the Spanish Empire functioned on a day-to-day basis in America. 

​Advisor:  Ernesto Bassi


  • History

Graduate Fields

  • Colonial Latin American History
  • Modern Latin American History
  • Early Modern Global History


  • Latin American Studies Program


  • Early Modern Latin America & Caribbean
  • The Atlantic World
  • The African Diaspora
  • Slavery, the slave trade & slave resistance
  • Inquisition Studies
  • The Spanish Empire
  • Religious and Cultural History
  • Transnational, transimperial and global history