Microhistories of transgression

Source: "Dispositivo para cortocircuitos" by Iván Rickenmann

Day by day we witness different types of “transgressions”: sins, deceptions, robberies, murders and many other actions that frequently cause indignation and scandal in society. But transgressions can be diverse and, according to the context, be more or less serious. Lying in our personal lives ―telling a white lie― does not merit imprisonment; but if we do so during a judicial proceeding ―under oath― we may indeed be subject to such penalties. Thus the objective of Microhistories of Transgression (Microhistorias de la trangresión) is to stop talking about transgressions from the perspective of their singularity, subject to time, their cultural variability and multiple perspectives. To achieve this goal, the book includes a variety of contributions by historians and anthropologists.

The text begins with a chapter written by Leidy Torres about an indigenous named Hernando who loses his life because he has had sexual relations with a calf during the colonial period. The next section deals with research by Natalia Guevara regarding slaves who stole as a strategy for survival during the 18th century. Adriana Alzate provides a vital contribution about the colonial period dealing with the case of a cleric who committed suicide in violation of the will of God. What do these cases tell us about the relationships of power and society in the midst of transgressions?

Franz Henzel, Max S. Hering Torres and Piedad del Valle cite various cases from the 19th century: the rebellion of an imprisoned drunk, a mutiny in Chapinero stemming from cockfights, and the punishment meted out to a prostitute for murdering her newborn offspring. What do these cases tell us about the relationship between transgression and control?

The book ends with contributions by Nelson Rojas, Myriam Ximeno and Mario Aguilera in the last chapter on the 20th century, involving cases of murders, a collective deception by some priests in Santander, crimes of passion and the delicate matter of transgression through an insurgency, both from and within the insurgency.

The above serves to discuss, from the perspective of microhistory, how we can understand society by looking at anomalies. But, what is microhistory? For us, it is like taking a photograph while zooming in on the details. The idea is thus to show a series of micro-elements there are related and connected with broader aspects, like a spider web in its multiple dimensions.

We therefore invite the reader to reflect, from the perspective of the atypical, deviations and their details, about how transgressive actions not only change over time but are defined by a series of fears and hopes, intentions and profits, understanding transgression as a reflection of how people think, obey and disobey the laws.



Max S. Hering Torres

Max S. Hering Torres holds a PhD in History from University of Vienna, Austria. He is an Associate Professor of the History Department at Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogota campus, and the editor in chief of the Anuario Colombiano de Historia Social y de la Cultura. His publications as editor and author include: El peso de la sangre, Historia cultural desde Colombia, Race and Blood in the Iberian World, among others.

Nelson A. Rojas

Nelson A. Rojas has a degree in History from Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogota campus. Currently, he is a candidate for the Master in History at the same University. His publications include the chapter “Miedo, anormalidad y justicia. El caso de Bogotá en el siglo XIX”, in the book Oficio del historiador: enfoques y prácticas.