M.A. Theses: Eve Nimmo, 2003

The Concepción Convent of Cuenca, Ecuador: Examining Gender, Class, and Economy in a Latin American Convent

In colonial Latin American cities, convents were not only spiritual and moral symbols in society they were also important economic institutions which helped finance the local economy. Because of the economic power many convents gained during the colonial period, nuns had opportunities and freedoms that were not available to other women. However, the prosperity of convents throughout the colonies decreased over time and with this the nuns lost much of their economic power.

This thesis discusses the changing role of convents in colonial society, focussing on the Inmaculada Concepción Convent in Cuenca, Ecuador, and how these changes affected the lives of the nuns within the convent. The purpose of this thesis is firstly to explore the material culture of the Concepción Convent to gain insight into how the institution functioned in society and secondly to examine the relationships of power and resistance going on within and outside the convent walls. This thesis also demonstrates how archaeological work in convents can provide new insight into the study of female institutions in archaeology. By examining the documentary history, material culture, and architecture of the Concepción Convent, I explore how the women within this convent were able to express ideas of ethnicity, class, and economic power both within and outside the convent. In so doing, these women were able to create a space that was simultaneously detached from the patriarchy of colonial society and ingrained in the social, ethnic, and religious ideals of that society. Similarly, I examine how these expressions of power and resistance change over time and the causes and effects of this change.