I went to this NEH institute almost 20 years ago where I was a bad student. I was partly there because I needed the scholarship money to survive the summer. And as it turned out we were to stay in these depressing dorms, and the NEH was broke that summer so the coolest speakers could not come . . . and the director had told the speakers we did have that we would “know nothing,” so they were speaking as if for tourists, and were surprised to find out we were professors.
It was when faculty now famous were younger, still trying to get married, still trying to have children, having unwise romantic drama with each other, so things were tense like high school or graduate school. (College had not been like that because people did not seem to see it as the end.)
It was the summer JSTOR was new. I was stifled in my job and alienated. A friend even more alienated was there. I think we were right in our analysis, but it was not a charitable one. In any case I remember the malaise. I did write a paper.
In any case, I am recycling some materials from it, and taking note of a few things in it — namely on formations of national identity in late-colonial Brazil and Spanish America (Stuart Schwartz, Anthony Pagden). Pagden — and I quite like his essay, and am not doing it justice — says that by 1650 or so the criollo elites of Mexico and Peru no longer considered themselves, nor their culture, Spanish. Because of early policies about marrying Indians and considering mestizo offspring Spaniards, by the early 18th century few criollo families were not actually mestizo.
The early racial fluidity undermined the criollo sense of being a closed, white elite and as a result of this, the project of figuring out how to extol the indigenous past while excluding present Indians was born; it was already clear by the middle of the 16th century that this was the model. Mestizos were also despised by now–not the bearers of a new, mixed culture.
Meanwhile, people like Siguenza y Góngora (1645-1700) were trying to figure out how to create a history and identity that used the past glory/present subjection of Indians as a basis of Mexican history. (He constructs Pre-Columbian Mexico as Mexico’s classical heritage, and so on.) It is worth reading, rereading this, and getting the actual book, too, which is inexpensive now.