Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

7/1/2006 - 6/30/2007

Funding Totals

$40,000.00 (approved)
$40,000.00 (awarded)

Truth and Consequences: Scribes and the Colonization of Spanish America

FAIN: FA-52342-06

Kathryn J. Burns
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC 27599-1350)

This project makes visible an enormous network of “invisible hands,” the Spanish and Native American scribes who left the documentary paper trail we use to write colonial Latin American history. Using an innovative mix of sources, including 16th-18th century Castilian notarial manuals, I place scribes in transatlantic historical context, showing how they produced a heavily scripted form of truth. I mine primarily Andean archives to show whose truth this was and the colonial interests it served. The project challenges historians to approach the archive itself as an historical artifact, shaped by power plays and unequal relationships.

Associated Products

Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru (Book)
Title: Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru
Author: Kathryn Burns
Editor: Duke University Press
Abstract: Writing has long been linked to power. For early modern people on both sides of the Atlantic, writing was also the province of notaries, men trained to cast other people’s words in official forms and make them legally true. These men had a dismal reputation for falsehood and greed, yet Spaniards and other colonizers of the Americas could not do without notaries and the archives they created. Contemporary scholars also rely on this vast paper trail to make sense of the Latin American past. How then to approach the question of notarial truth? Kathryn Burns argues that the archive itself must be historicized. Examining the practices that shaped document making in colonial Cuzco, she depicts notaries as businessmen whose products conformed to local “custom” as well as Spanish templates, and clients as knowledgeable consumers with strategies for getting what they wanted. In this inside story of the early modern archive, Burns offers a wealth of possibilities for seeing sources in fresh perspective.
Year: 2010
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