Carlos Zuniga-Nieto

Field: Latin America
Advisor: Pablo Piccato
Year: 2007


Carlos Zuniga Nieto specializes in the history of emotions, legal history, and gender and sexuality in modern Mexico. His dissertation, “Love and Honor in Yucatan, Mexico, 1880-1920” traces the transformation of law and honor among indigenous Maya and non-indigenous populations in southern and northwestern Yucatán, Mexico from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. His dissertation investigates the following three questions: To what extent did lower-class plaintiffs use a language of emotions, and how was this language affected during the rise of medical expertise and new legal categories? How did judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys perceive plaintiffs’ economic valuation of honor and virginity? How did the rise of legal categories of medicine and efforts to relate emotions to legal categories in trials affect demands for honor, respect, and recognition?

His research is based on a wide array of primary sources, although he draws primarily from a database of over 1,000 elopement and defloration trials and lawsuits from 1880 to the late 1920s from criminal and civil courts. In addition, he uses love letters that were part of criminal lawsuits to trace notions of filial and romantic love. He also compiled a database of novels, literary journals, newspapers, poetry, songs, and plays, which allow me to trace social attitudes and popular opinion. He also draws on legal codes, jurisprudential literature, and medical journals. His work illustrates how economic activity and emotions are intertwined in the interplay between intimate relationships and economic interests. In particular, his research unveils how lower-class actors use economic activity to create, maintain, and renegotiate social relations. For the majority of plaintiffs in Yucatán marriage was not the aspiration. In these cases, plaintiffs attached a financial value to such emotions as honor, shame, trust, and distrust. The project illuminates that lower-class families used the courts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to claim and protect their honor. Female minors sued men for their loss of virginity, and after pregnancy, searched for a restitution of honor through marriage or economic compensation. This was particularly relevant to virginity pricing: plaintiffs attached an economic value to virginity but also to the loss of honor, the shame of daughters undergoing medical examination, the shame of whole families making their grievances public, the familial distrust engendered by pregnancy, and the abandonment of pregnant daughters.

He has presented his work in conferences in Europe, the Americas, and the United States. His research has been funded by the International Travel Fellowship from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Doris G. Quinn Foundation. He was a visiting doctoral researcher at the Lateinamerika-Institut (LAI) der Freien Universität Berlin. He earned a M.A. and a M.Phil. in History from Columbia University. Zuniga Nieto has been awarded the Foreign Languages and Areas Studies fellowships in Portuguese and French and a research grant from the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race from Columbia. His M.A. thesis, entitled “Fostering Ties in the Porfirian City: Friendships and Sociability in the Tepito Neighborhood, 1890-1910” examined kinship formation, social networks, and sociability among rural migrants in the neighborhood of Tepito in Mexico City during the early twentieth century..