Penn Library

CULTURAL READINGS: Colonization & Print in the Americas


León y Gama European narratives about the New World took on diverse forms, and appealed to broader audiences, as news of colonization spread. Accounts themselves were usually formulaic, confirming rather than disturbing readers' impressions of the Americas and of American peoples. Nevertheless, their popularity suggests another possibility: that what intrigued readers was the notion that cultural boundaries were not impermeable, and cultural differences not as sharp, as writers would have them appear.
History writing was an elite genre, and European courts charged their historians to record New World discoveries and conquests in detail. These accounts justify the beneficent part played by European national governments and cultures in their American empires. By the 18th century, intellectuals attempted to write the history of American indigenous cultures, using their monuments. While most sought to provide valuable information, they also relegated these cultures to the realm of "antiquities." Captivity narratives, on the other hand, brought cultural conflict to readers with violent immediacy, by describing white captives' prolonged encounters with Indians.

Exhibition Contents | Introduction | Essays | Bibliography & Links

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