- Translation and Transmission in the Early Americas: The Fourth Early Americanist “Summit
Cosponsored by the Society of Early Americanists and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture Washington, DC, and University of Maryland
June 2–5, 2016
The Fourth Early Americanist “Summit” brought together more than 150 scholars to discuss the theme of “Translation and Transmission in the Early Americas.” The four-day, multilingual occasion featured three keynote addresses and forty panels led by experts in the fields of anthropology, history, linguistics, and literary studies. The event emerged on the Twitter stratosphere with its very own “hashtag.” Conference attendees could share their thoughts before, during, and after the event, such as Marie Taylor’s optimistic reaction, “Feeling energized to write after a great conference #UMDColonialTranslation” and Alejandra Dubcovsky’s praise of a fellow attendee’s presentation: “@Jillio brilliant comment to ‘task of translator’ panel #UMDcolonialTranslation ‘translation as a haunted space.’” This interface transported discussions beyond the walls of Tawes Hall so that even those who regretfully missed the conference (“Wish I had been there #UMDColonialTranslation”) could take part in the dialogue.
Indeed, praise for the conference and for fellow participants was not confined to Twitter. When asked about her impressions of the summit, one participant remarked on the highly collegial atmosphere sustained throughout the weekend. Seasoned attendees greeted familiar colleagues and welcomed new faces. In addition to the friendly and supportive environment of the conference, I also appreciated the early American “field trips” to local cultural attractions. Co-organizers Ralph Bauer and Allison Bigelow facilitated outings to downtown Washington for Davíd Carrasco’s and Michael Witgen’s keynote addresses at the Mexican Cultural Institute [End Page 257] and the National Museum of the American Indian. The long bus rides into DC did not bother conference participants, providing a chance to reflect on stimulating panel presentations or simply to catch up with friends.
Throughout the summit, scholars repeatedly called attention to the interpretive and ideological hazards of translation. Panels fostered interdisciplinary dialogue concerning the problematic issues raised by the practice of translation in the early Americas and beyond. Examples of translation in religious, scientific, literary, and political discourse offered a wide variety of complex cases to consider. With titles such as “Languages of Belonging and Exclusion in the Early Modern Circum-Caribbean,” “Talking Books: Alphabetic Literacy in Colonial Encounters,” and “Translating Nature: A Transcultural History of Early Modern Science” among others, panels and especially the participatory roundtables allowed for open discussion and creative brainstorming among conferences attendees. Many panelists prefaced their work by asking for constructive criticism from the audience during question-and-answer sessions. As noted in the Twitter comments, the conference was a useful place to present incipient research projects in order to receive alternative perspectives from collaborative participants. Panels deliberated on the issues of transmission and religion—evidenced in the militant theology used to indoctrinate newly converted Christians in sixteenth-century Brazil, in Peruvian criollo Fray Jerónimo de Oré’s evangelistic texts, and in the significant role of Jesuit translators in eighteenth-century Yucatan. Roundtables addressed literary questions of translation such as early modern theorizations of horizontal and vertical translation, the Othering language of Abel Posse’s twentieth-century retelling of colonial shipwrecks in El largo atardecer del caminante, the “contagion” of sentimentality in eighteenth-century French texts produced in Spanish Louisiana, and the defiant graffiti of conquistadores in colonial Mexico. Other sessions considered scientific knowledge in translation such as Álvaro Alonso Barba’s advocacy of Quechua mining techniques in seventeenth-century Spain, as well as the pervasive contemporary privileging of European Enlightenment epistemologies that “accommodate” indigenous knowledge.
The downtown outings provided access to relevant venues that promoted further reflection on the issues discussed during roundtables throughout the day. On Thursday evening I was enthralled by Roberto Cueva del Río’s colorful murals as I climbed the winding staircase to hear [End Page 258] Davíd Carrasco’s keynote address at the Mexican Cultural Institute. Carrasco introduced the theme of translation with his fascinating story of the discovery and restoration of the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan Número 2. He highlighted two of the recurring themes prevalent throughout the conference: the...