Accepted Paper:

has pdf download Precedents for the history of ethnography and ethnology in 16th century New Spain  

Author:

Andrés Barrera-González (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

Paper short abstract:

The paper will examine the ethnographic work carried out by Bernardino de Sahagún and his colleagues among the Náhuatl Indians of Mexico. It will also look at the theological and moral debates triggered by the sighting of the Amerindians, and the ideas put forward by Las Casas.

Paper long abstract:

Among the Franciscan friars who were sent to Mexico immediately after the fall of Tenochtitlan there were a number of extraordinary individuals: Andrés de Olmos, Francisco de Toral, Toribio de Benavente, Bernardino de Sahagún. In their zeal and dedication to the conversion of the Indians, they learned their languages, wrote the first vocabularies and grammars of Náhuatl and other local languages. Moreover, helped by the offspring of the Aztec elite educated in the colleges they run, they produced detailed ethnographic descriptions of local cultures, wrote the first histories of the peoples and civilizations of the region. They were true pioneers in what today would be labelled ethno-linguistics, ethno-history, ethnography through fieldwork and the use of native informants.

As regards the theological, doctrinal and moral debates conducted back in the metropolis one should take into account leading figures like Francisco de Vitoria, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, and Bartolomé de Las Casas. These debates in many important aspects verge upon modern intellectual reflection and theorizing in ethnology, or indeed socio-cultural anthropology, as the historian Anthony Pagden (1982) points out.

In revisiting such an extraordinary 'ethnographic-ethnological occasion' (Pels and Salemink 1999) in the context of colonial New Spain I will examine the complex interplay between the diverse forces and factors that converge in this particular socio-political and historical field: The Crown, the Church, the Conquistadores, the Missionaries, the Indians. As well as the theologians back in Salamanca and Valladolid, or the officials of the Inquisition brought in the colonies at some point.

Panel P060
Themes in the history of anthropology and ethnology in Europe [Europeanist network]