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Warwick-Newberry Collaborative Project 2006-07


European and New World Forms of Knowledge

in Colonial Spanish America c. 1520-1800

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Illustration: Miguel Cabrera (1695-1728), Indios Gentiles (‘pagan Indians’),

Museo de América, Madrid. This casta painting tellingly ‘classicises’ its subject.

The intellectual and literary production of colonial Spanish America, much of it in Latin as well as in Spanish, represents a vast cultural legacy, in which European humanist discourses were adapted to accomodate indigenous languages, knowledge, and experience. This important legacy offers a vital parallel to the development of intellectual traditions in early modern Europe – yet it has so far received little attention from English-speaking scholars.

Organizers: Andrew Laird Reader in Classics at the University of Warwick UK, with the administrative assistance of Dr Catherine Armstrong

Format: The programme will take the form of a seminar series (to be held at Warwick during the academic year 2006-7); a one-day workshop at the Newberry Library in Chicago (10 November 2006); and a two-week residential workshop (to be held at the Newberry Library (23 July – 3 August 2007).

Programme for the summer workshop (Word Document)


The passage of an already cosmopolitan humanism from Europe to the Americas, occurrred virtually simultaneously with the discovery and conquest of Mexico.

This led to the early emergence, from within the Spanish territories, of a rich and distinctive tradition of learning. Recognition of indigenous cultural and linguistic differences, among other factors, had a rapid impact on European forms of knowledge and their Christian and Classical paradigms. Specific examples of this impact include: unprecedented debates (notably the celebrated ‘controversy of the Indies’); the extension of natural history and medicinal knowledge; the development of ethnography and historiography; grammars of Nahuatl and other American languages; the vigorous production of colonial literature and poetry (in Latin as well as Spanish) which address aboriginal themes in conjunction with classical and Christian topoi. Even discourses of theology, jurism, philosophy, and rhetoric (in Latin), though primarily governed by European (Italian as well as Iberian) protocols, regularly draw attention to their American context of production.

In addition, ample records survive of the texts of Classical, Christian and Renaissance authors from the Old World which were imported, reprinted, and anthologised.

It is particularly significant that during the 1530s – 1580s, Latin was taught to the youth of various Mesoamerican elites in Mexico City, as well as in other parts of America. The language provided a means of acculturation for the privileged members of indigenous groups in the early colonial period. In the 17-18th centuries, Latin and Classical learning became a means by which criollo intellectuals sought to legitimise their intellectual authority in response to European critiques of New World culture. But in the wake of the Bourbon Reforms in the mid-18th century, Latin ended up being largely confined to a more exclusive (mainly Jesuit) élite, although even after the Jesuits were exiled from the Spanish territories to Italy and other countries in Europe in 1767, the Latin language functioned as the vehicle of a distinctive American – as opposed to Spanish – identity.

Some general aims of the 2006-7 workshop

  • mapping out sources for future work

To apply an appropriate range of interdisciplinary approaches to this complex and underexplored domain, and to identify criteria for key areas of research as well as major sources (archived documents, early printed books etc.)

  • Establishing how European forms of knowledge led to the expression of a New World identity

A principal intellectual aim will be to explore the transformation of European intellectual and cultural traditions in Spanish America (in terms of language, ethnicity, political change), and to highlight various ways in which humanism enabled certain groups to lay claim to a specifically ‘American’ identity in different phases of the colonial era.