Early Europeans and Amerindian Languages and Writing

Colonial Counterpoint: New World Texts as Sites of Encounter, 1492-1800

Illustration from Nueva crónica y buen gobierno by Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala


This section traces the ways in which Renaissance conceptions of language, books and writing provided the framework through which early Spanish missionaries, explorers and historians interpreted Amerindian cultures.  Works by Pedro Mártir de Anglería, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, and José de Acosta provide illustrative examples.  Also included is Guamán Poma de Ayala on quipus and native Peruvian writing systems.

It also features the earliest efforts to alphabetize Mesoamerican languages for the purpose of conversion through the work of the first Spanish grammarians and lexicographers:  Andrés de Olmos, Antonio de Molina and Maturino Gilberti.  These Mexican incunabula are among the first books published in the New World after printing arrived in the 1530s and attest to the role of the early printing press as an instrument of empire under Spanish rule.  Also displayed is a very rare Testerian catechism (c. 1570s), which features a curious method developed by the early Franciscan missionaries mimicking native pictorial glyphs to teach Catholic doctrine.