Publication Date

April 2016


Gary Shaw


History (HIST)


English (United States)


This thesis takes up the largely forgotten 1675 Inquisition trial of self-proclaimed mystic, María Cotanilla. Through close analysis of Cotanilla’s hearings and the witness testimonies given by her neighbors, it explores the questions raised in this complex case of feigned sanctity and how this small town outside Madrid made sense of Cotanilla’s unlikely rise and fall. The project seeks to reanimate Cotanilla and her moment, to make space to acknowledge the personhoods and possibilities of this history that the Inquisition left out. It strives to denaturalize the perceived authority of the written record and to call attention to the Inquisition’s heavy hand in carving out Cotanilla’s life narrative for its own purposes. Engaging with contemporary debates in the field, this thesis troubles the tenuous the dichotomy between fact (public, institutional records, coded male) and fiction (interior narratives, embodied experiences, coded female). It insists upon the perpetual existence of thoughts and feelings in every historical agent and that their exclusion from the historical record is, in itself, a fiction. It asserts the indispensability of these interior narratives to the historical project. Recognizing that the historian’s dependence on the archive for historical authorization perpetuates the cyclical exclusion of interior and alternative narratives of history, this project seeks out other methods for evaluating historicity. It works to make sense of Cotanilla’s case by complementing evidence put forth in the trial record with investigations into her possible motives, her personal stakes, and her labors of self-fashioning. Further, it asks how Cotanilla might have lived and embodied this history, considering her experience as a blind woman, the public scrutiny of her disability, her claims of demonic possession, her sexual experience, allegations of her impregnation, and suggestions of masturbation and abortion. This thesis confronts the historian’s fraught dependence on the archive, at once a refuge for the people of history and an instrument of violence against them. Experimenting with historical methodologies to works to recognize and reconstruct the parts of a life—usually apparatuses for thinking and feeling—that throughout history have been collapsed or cut out in the process of archiving.



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