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Colonial Mediascapes

Sensory Worlds of the Early Americas

Matt Cohen

Publication Year: 2014

In colonial North and South America, print was only one way of communicating. Information in various forms flowed across the boundaries between indigenous groups and early imperial settlements. Natives and newcomers made speeches, exchanged gifts, invented gestures, and inscribed their intentions on paper, bark, skins, and many other kinds of surfaces. No one method of conveying meaning was privileged, and written texts often relied on nonwritten modes of communication.
Colonial Mediascapes examines how textual and nontextual literatures interacted in colonial North and South America. Extending the textual foundations of early American literary history, the editors bring a wide range of media to the attention of scholars and show how struggles over modes of communication intersected with conflicts over religion, politics, race, and gender. This collection of essays by major historians, anthropologists, and literary scholars demonstrates that the European settlement of the Americas and European interaction with Native peoples were shaped just as much by communication challenges as by traditional concerns such as religion, economics, and resources.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Colonial Mediascapes is a bold and ambitious project that proposes new ways of thinking about books, technology, and American Indians. When the old ways of thinking are filled with rusted and corroding words, sometimes the new ways require new words. New words....

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pp. xiii-xvi

We are most of all grateful to all of our contributors, for their generosity, care, and patience. For the existence and much of the quality of this book, we owe a debt to our anonymous readers and the editorial staff at the University of Nebraska Press, and to Matt Bokovoy in particular...

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Matt Cohen and Jeffrey Glover

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pp. 1-44

New World colonialism catalyzed an extraordinary range of controversies and theories about humanness and history, many of which centered on the question of communication— and writing in particular. Could a people without what Westerners recognized as “writing” know...

Part I. Beyond Textual Media

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1. Dead Metaphor or WorkingModel? “The Book” in Native America

Germaine Warkentin

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pp. 47-75

On July 12, 1562, Diego de Landa (1524– 79), the bishop of Yucatán, ordered the friars at the Franciscan mission in Mani to put to the torch a quantity of Mayan “idols,” calendar scrolls (katuns), and “books.” In his 1566 Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, Landa observed of the katuns...

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2. Early Americanist Grammatology

Andrew Newman

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pp. 76-98

In The Legacies of Literacy: Continuities and Contradictions in Western Culture and Society, Harvey Graff points out that “virtually all” discussions of literacy “founder because they slight efforts to formulate consistent and realistic definitions of literacy, have little appreciation of the...

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3. Indigenous Histories and ArchivalMedia in the Early Modern Great Lakes

Heidi Bohaker

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pp. 99-138

For historians seeking to understand indigenous responses to colonialism in early America, or indigenous histories more broadly, the necessity of relying exclusively on sources authored by colonists has proved a frustrating limitation. In recent decades, scholars have

Part II. Multimedia Texts

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4. The Manuscript, the Quipu, and the Early American Book

Birgit Brander Rasmussen

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pp. 141-165

In 1613, a Native American from the Andes who called himself Don Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala finished a 1,189- page manuscript titled Nueva corónica y buen gobierno.¹ Addressed to King Phillip III of Spain, this text represents an immensely ambitious effort to address...

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5. Semiotics, Aesthetics, and the Quechua Concept of Quilca

Galen Brokaw

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pp. 166-202

European societies have always seen writing as an important indicator of “civilization.” Even today, many scholars seem to feel compelled to pronounce on whether or not the cultures they study possessed a form of writing. One could argue on a number of different grounds...

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6. “Take My Scalp, Please!”

Gordon M. Sayre

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pp. 203-230

Southwestern humor, including the tall tale, emerged into U.S. literary history in the Jacksonian period, as white anglophone backsettlers gained political influence among East Coast metropolitans. It reached canonical status, of course, with Mark Twain, whose pen name came...

Part III. Sensory New Worlds

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7. Brave New Worlds

Peter Charles Hoffer

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pp. 233-265

How do we deal with novelty, the unexpected, the unforeseen? When our senses alert us that we face a new situation, how do we respond? Insofar as senses are tutored by our culture, our reaction to the unfamiliar is scripted. The intonations are our own; the words are those...

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8. Howls, Snarls, and Musket Shots

Jon Coleman

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pp. 266-289

Woath woach ha ha hach woath. The great and hideous cry jerked the landing party awake. “Arm, arm,” yelled a sentinel. Muskets boomed and fell silent. Men traded whispers in the dark. One, a sailor, had heard the cry before. Companies of wolves, he reported, often sung to...

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9. Hearing Wampum: The Senses,Mediation, and the Limits of Analogy

Richard Cullen Rath

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pp. 290-322

In 1756, Virginia citizens were feeling anxious and vulnerable to the threat of the Catawbas and Cherokees joining the French in the war against the English. Relations with the Indians were already strained on a number of fronts. Catawbas had successfully played internal colonial...

Part IV. Transatlantic Mediascapes

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10. Writing as “Khipu”

Ralph Bauer

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pp. 325-356

In 1571 the penultimate ruler of the Inca dynasty, Titu Cusi Yupanqui, collaborated with an Augustinian monk and a mestizo secretary to produce a text unique in the history of early American mediascapes. Instrucción del Inca Don Diego de Castro Titu Cusi Yupanqui al Licenciado...

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11. Christian Indians at War

Jeffrey Glover

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pp. 357-375

In the fall of 1710, the French Jesuit Louis d’Avaugour wrote to his superior Joseph Louis- Germain to report on the town of Lorette, located on the bank of the Saint- Charles River just northwest of Quebec. After briefly describing his evangelical endeavors among the...

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12. The Algonquian Word and the Spiritof Divine Truth

Sarah Rivett

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pp. 376-408

Over the course of the settlement of the New World in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, European missionaries discovered the power and knowledge available to those who learned Indian languages. Spanish missionaries began a massive effort to compile, organize, and...


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pp. 409-412


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pp. 413-438

E-ISBN-13: 9780803254404
E-ISBN-10: 0803254407
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803232396

Page Count: 464
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 871258208
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Colonial Mediascapes

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • Oral tradition -- America x History -- 17th century.
  • Books and reading -- America x History -- 17th century.
  • Literacy -- America x History -- 17th century.
  • Communication -- America -- History -- 17th century.
  • First contact of aboriginal peoples with Westerners -- America x History -- 17th century.
  • Indians of South America -- Communication.
  • Indians of Mexico -- Communication.
  • Indians of North America -- Communcation.
  • Great Britain -- Colonies -- America.
  • Spain -- Colonies -- America.
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