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Language and Writing


  • Consider Atahualpa’s encounter with the book. Compare the different versions of the encounter. What importance do the different writers ascribe to the fact that Inca society did not possess alphabetic writing?
  • Contrast Todorov’s and Greenblatt’s explanations for the success of the European conquest. Did the Spanish succeed because they possessed alphabetic writing?

Primary Sources

Please read EITHER Garcilaso or Yupanqui. ALSO look at the quipus.

Required Secondary Reading

  • Please read SEED and either GREENBLATT or TODOROV:
  • Seed, Patricia, ‘Failing to Marvel: Atahualpa’s Encounter with the Word’, Latin American Research Review 26:1 (1991).
  • Greenblatt, Marvellous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World, Clarendon Press (Oxford, 1991), Introduction.
  • Todorov, Tzventan, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other, trans. Richard Howard, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, 1999), Introduction.

Additional Readings

On language, literacy and power

  • Becker, A.L., ‘Literacy and Cultural Change’, in Richard W. Bailey and Robin M. Forsheim (eds.), Literacy for Life: The Demand for Reading and Writing, The Modern Language Association (New York, 1983).
  • Certeau, Michel de, The Writing of History
  • Cummins, Tom, ‘Let Me See! Reading Is for Them: Colonial Andean Images and Objects ‘como es costumbre tener los caciques Señores’’, Native Traditions in the Postconquest World, ed. Hill Boone and Cummins (Dumbarton Oaks, 1998).
  • Greenblatt, Stephen, ‘Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in Sixteenth Century’, in Jerry M. Williams and Robert E. Lewis (eds.), First Images of the Americas: Transfer and Invention, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, 1993).
  • Harbsmeier, ‘Writing and the Other: Travellers’ Literacy, or Towards an Archaeology of Orality’, in Literacy and Society, ed. Karen Schousboe and Margens Trolle Larsen (Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1989).
  • Lamana, Gonzalo, ‘Of Books, Popes, and Huacas, and the Dilemmas of Being Christian’, in Rereading the Black Legend: The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissances Empires, eds., Margaret Greer, Walter Mignolo and Maureen Quilligan, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 2007).
  • Mignolo, Walter, The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality and Colonization, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, 1995).
  • Mignolo, Walter, ‘When Speaking Was Not Good Enough: Illiterates, Barbarians, Savages, and Cannibals’, Amerindian Images and the Legacy of Columbus, eds. René Jara and Nicholas Spadaccini, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, 1992).
  • Ong, Walter, The Presence of the World, Yale University Press (New Haven, 1967).
  • Ong, Walter, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the World, Methuen (New York, 1982).
  • Rama, Ángel, The Lettered City, trans. J.C. Chasteen, Duke University Press (Durham, 1996).

On Quipus

  • Brokaw, Galen, ‘Khipu Numeracy and Alphabetic Literacy in the Andes: Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala’s Nueva Corónica y buen gobierno’, Colonial Latin American Review, 2002 11(2): 275-303.
  • Brokaw, Galen, ‘The Poetics of Khipu Historiography: Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala’s Nueva corónica and the Relación de los quipucamayos’, Latin American Research Review 38:3 (2003)
  • Quilter, Jeffrey, and Gary Urton, eds., Narrative Threads: Accounting and Recounting in Andean Khipu, University of Texas Press (Austin, 2002).
  • Quispe-Agnoli, Rocío, ‘Cuando Occidente y los Andes se encuentran: Qellqay, escritura alfabética, y tokhapu en el siglo XVI’, Colonial Latin American Review 14:2.
  • Urton, Gary, Signs of the Inka: Khipu Binary Coding in the Andean Knotted-String Records, University of Texas Press (Austin, 2003).