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Imperial Spain explored the Northern California coast as early as 1542, and by 1776 it established a military base, or Presidio, on the site of present-day San Francisco. But while we refer to the Presidio soldiers and settlers as “Spanish,” this really means that they were subjects of the Spanish king rather than saying anything about where they were born. In fact, rather than being born in Spain, many at the Presidio had been born in the Americas with varying combinations of Spanish, African, and Indian parentage. Indeed, the Presidio soldiers and settlers used an elaborate system of categories, or castas, to make distinctions among themselves based on the varying degrees of their different ancestries. Yet over time, this elaborate system of castas was supplanted by a single, all-encompassing category of Californio that distinguished them from local California Indians. How and why did this change in proto-racial categories take place? In this program, Barbara Voss explores the archaeological remains at the Presidio, as well as the documentary evidence in archives, to investigate social changes among the colonists in Spanish California as they re-conceived their notions of themselves and their relationship to the California Indians around them.
Barbara Voss, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Stanford
Barbara Voss has worked with the National Park Service in directing archaeological excavations at the Presidio in San Francisco. She is also affiliated with the Stanford Archaeology Center and the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. Among her many publications is her book, The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis: Race and Sexuality in Colonial San Francisco. She received a PhD in anthropology from UC Berkeley.