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Yanna YannakakisProfessor & Department Chair

Yanna Yannakakis, Professor, Associate Department Chair, and Mentor Coordinator (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, B.A. Dartmouth College).  Social and cultural history of colonial Latin America, history of Mexico, ethnohistory, history of legal systems, and the interaction of indigenous peoples and institutions in Mexico.  

I teach undergraduate and graduate classes in Mexican history, colonial Latin American history, Indigenous history, and legal history. In all of my courses, my objective is to put my students’ experiences into conversation with those of marginalized historical actors like women, Indigenous people, African-descent peoples, and laborers -- as well as those of the political figures and intellectuals who have long dominated historical narratives -- in order to explore how diverse peoples shaped the past, imagined their futures, and created unexpected outcomes.

My research puts ethnohistory (Indigenous history) into dialog with legal history, with a focus on how Mexico’s Indigenous peoples used colonial institutions and knowledge as a resource for their own ends. In doing so, I center the perspective of Indigenous historical actors, thereby contributing to scholarly efforts to decolonize Indigenous history. My first book, The Art of Being In-Between: Native Intermediaries, Indian Identity, and Local Rule in Colonial Oaxaca (Duke University Press, 2008), examines how native cultural brokers negotiated with Spanish courts and the Catholic Church to open and maintain a space for the political and cultural autonomy of indigenous elites and their communities during Mexico’s colonial period. The book won the 2009 Howard Francis Cline Memorial Award given by the Conference on Latin American History for the best book on the history of Latin America’s indigenous peoples. My most recent book Since Time Immemorial: Native Custom and Law in Colonial Mexico (Duke University Press, 2023) traces the invention, translation, and deployment of the legal category of Native custom, with particular attention to how Indigenous litigants and colonial authorities refashioned social and cultural norms related to marriage, crime, religion, land, labor, and self-governance in Native communities. I published the book open access through Emory’s TOME initiative (it can be downloaded via this link): https://read.dukeupress.edu/books/book/3205/Since-Time-ImmemorialNative-Custom-and-Law-in.

I am co-editor with Gabriela Ramos of Indigenous Intellectuals: Knowledge, Power, and Colonial Culture in Colonial Mexico and the Andes (Duke University Press, 2014), co-editor with Luis Alberto Arrioja Díaz Viruell and Martina Schrader-Kniffki of Los indios ante la justicia local: intérpretes, oficiales, y litigantes en Nueva España y Guatemala siglos XVI-XVIII (Colegio de Michoacán, 2019), co-editor with Miranda Johnson of a special issue “Law, Politics, and Indigeneity in the Making of Ethnohistory: Perspectives from Latin America, Africa, and the Pacific” in the journal Ethnohistory (70:2, 2023), and co-author with Bianca Premo of “A Court of Sticks and Branches: Indian Jurisdiction in Colonial Mexico and Beyond” in the American Historical Review (February 2019) Forum on Indigenous Agency and Colonial Law. I am project coordinator on an ongoing, open access digital humanities project “Power of Attorney: Native People, Legal Culture, and Social Networks in Mexico.”

Current Graduate Students

Recently-Appointed Doctoral Graduates