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Title: Languages, Knowledge, and Empire in the Early Modern Iberian World (1492-1650)
Authors: Lopez Fadul, Valeria Alejandra
Advisors: Grafton, Anthony T.
Beaver, Adam G.
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: early modern philosophy of language
language and empire
natural history
new world history
Subjects: History
European history
Latin American history
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Scholars of early modern Spain have often argued that a central component of the Crown’s control over the New World was the search for linguistic supremacy. This dissertation reassesses the linguistic component of Spain’s imperial project. It reconstructs the beliefs and practices with which humanists, missionaries and crown officials confronted the challenge of governing vast and multilingual domains. Rather than seeking to suppress native languages, I argue, scholars and administrators from all corners of the empire routinely approached the Spanish territory’s multiple tongues as rich archives of local knowledge, which contained valuable information about the history of its speakers or about their experiences with the natural world. Believing that fundamental geographical, botanical, and historical information lay encoded in the words by which locals described land formations, rivers, plants and animals, Spanish scholars turned to etymologies as a tool with which to excavate the histories and true meanings of these exotic names. By sponsoring scientific expeditions, comprehensive censuses, local and universal histories, and libraries, the Crown harnessed linguistic knowledge at home and abroad for its own political benefit. I demonstrate that Spanish scholars and administrators, animated by pressing concerns about the subjecthood of the Indian or the loyalty of recent Muslim converts, placed language at the center of politically fraught historical investigations. Contrary to most studies, which focus strictly on the ways in which Spanish rule forced change on new world peoples and languages, this dissertation demonstrates the impact that studies in the New World had on elite circles in the Old. The amassing of new linguistic data had transformative consequences on both sides of the Atlantic: it progressively undermined the paradigm of the Tower of Babel, and with it, the vision of the Bible as a framing authority. It also generated new possible ways to imagine the Iberian Peninsula’s ancient past, arguments to justify elaborate hierarchies of languages within the Spanish realms, and contrasting projects as to how to administer and catechize multilingual subjects.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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