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Accepted Paper:

Distant testimony: considering khipu-based evidence in early colonial Andean court transcripts  
Manuel Medrano (University of St Andrews)

Paper short abstract:

In early colonial trials, Andean communities suing their corrupt encomenderos sometimes narrated their testimony from khipus (knotted-string records). The paper assesses the challenges encountered by digital analysis of surviving evidentiary khipu transcriptions, both individually and in aggregate.

Paper long abstract:

The decades following the Spanish conquest of the Inka Empire witnessed the rise of community litigation, in which Andean claimants sought compensatory damages from the estates of their corrupt encomenderos. In arguing their cases before the Spanish court, communities sometimes called on khipus—the yet-undeciphered knotted-string recording devices of the Andes—which were narrated by native cord keepers, translated by Spanish lenguas and committed to writing by Spanish scribes. The surviving court transcripts which contain their data have been digitized and syntactically annotated by the author, raising the possibility of aggregate computational analysis of "paper khipus." Since paper khipus have previously been studied only individually or in small groups, the paper considers the challenges and opportunities raised by engaging with this compiled legal archive at multiple scales—from the close reading of individual testimony to whole-corpus studies of linguistic patterns. Both approaches constitute promising inroads toward khipu decipherment. Yet, which silences emerge when studying khipu narrations in contexts increasingly abstracted from the conditions of their original production (transcribed, digitized, aggregated)? Have Andean community testimonies survived this tripartite translation? It is argued that the multi-scale analysis of paper khipus—analogue and digital, close and distant—charts a path forward in detecting indigenous categories buried in Spanish documents. Although studying an Andean cord-keeping tradition by aggregating its individual manifestations faces important trade-offs, I suggest that the spectrum of approaches inspired by these "mestizo" legal archives promises to make early-colonial community litigation—and the khipus which supported it—less distant than ever before.

Panel Evid02b
Doing justice justice? Methodological and theoretical challenges in the anthropological study of legal historical archives II
  Session 1 Thursday 1 April, 2021, -