The Woman on the Windowsill

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A Tale of Mystery in Several Parts

Sylvia Sellers-Garcia

View Inside Format: Hardcover
Price: $32.50
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A true story of violence, punishment, and a transformative moment in Guatemalan history that “deftly ranges across Italian iconography, Maya cosmovision, casta paintings, Enlightenment urbanism, conceptions of death, masculinity, gender violence, crime and punishment, and the growth of the state.” (Laura Matthew, Hispanic American Historical Review)

On the morning of July 1, 1800, a surveyor and mapmaker named Cayetano Díaz opened the window of his study in Guatemala City to find a horrific sight: a pair of severed breasts. Offering a meticulously researched and evocative account of the quest to find the perpetrator and understand the motives behind such a brutal act, The Woman on the Windowsill pinpoints the last decade of the eighteenth-century as a watershed moment in Guatemalan history, when the nature of justice changed dramatically.
Sylvia Sellers-García reveals how this bizarre and macabre event came with an increased attention to crime that resulted in more forceful policing and reflected important policy decisions not only in Guatemala but throughout the Spanish Empire. This engaging true crime story serves as a backdrop for the broader consideration of the forces shaping Guatemala City at the brink of the modern era.

Sylvia Sellers-García is associate professor of history at Boston College. Her previous books include Distance and Documents at the Spanish Empire’s Periphery and When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep.

The Woman on the Windowsill is that rare history book that will keep you on the edge of your seat. At the book’s core is the paired drama of an unfolding crime with the historian’s measured discovery of a puzzling and at times inscrutable past.” — Kris Lane, Tulane University

“An exquisite book. It is at once scholarly and popular, learned and accessible, challenging and inviting. The beauty is in the understated elegance, the pacing, and the care with which Sellers-Garciá approaches the pleasures and the problems of the archive.”— Raymond Craib, Cornell University

“Every historian dreams about finding a spellbinding old case or an irresistible cache of documents. Sellers-García has found such a case and used it to give us a grand tour of colonial Guatemala City, showing us its cobblestone streets, nearby ravines, hospitals and medical procedures, families from various walks of life, city leaders, victims, and villains.”—Andrés Reséndez, author of The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America

“The book deftly ranges across Italian iconography, Maya cosmovision, casta paintings, Enlightenment urbanism, conceptions of death, masculinity, gender violence, crime and punishment, and the growth of the state.”—Laura Matthew, The Hispanic American Historical Review

Received honorable mention for the Louis Gottschalk Prize

Winner of the James P. Hanlan Book Prize, sponsored by the New England Historical Association
ISBN: 9780300234282
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
296 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
32 b/w illus.