Penn Library

CULTURAL READINGS: Colonization & Print in the Americas



Any account of the colonization of the Americas must acknowledge the prodigious number of texts which colonization generated. "Cultural Readings" presents a sample of those texts. The web site is grouped into six broad categories; it also includes scholarly essays on topics related to the exhibition and a brief bibliography and list of web links.

Most of the books, manuscripts, illustrations, and maps shown here were printed in Europe: produced by Europeans for Europeans. Europeans used the written and the printed word to call for colonization and promote its benefits; to depict native cultures in narrow ways familiar to European audiences; to proclaim the benefits of missionization; and to portray the lands of the New World as rich and ready for the taking. But the encounters between European and American populations changed both sides profoundly. These texts do not merely record the self-satisfied praise of the victors; they also betray the questions and doubts which victory brought with it. Even as Europeans destroyed and disrupted native cultures, many testify in writing to the survival, resistance, and strength of those cultures. Furthermore, as these documents attest, while Europeans attempted to "read" native cultures of the Americas, indigenous peoples sought to "read" Europeans, expressing their opinions and judgments in speeches, negotiations, religious gatherings, and in print.

"Cultural Readings" attempts to use the internet to review this complex history. The web site originates from two exhibitions of rare printed and manuscript materials held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the Fall and early Spring of 1997-1998. "Cultural Readings: Spanish Representations of the New World," at the University of Pennsylvania's Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, displays colonial texts of New Spain from the Jay I. Kislak Foundation. "Words and Deeds: Natives, Europeans, and Writing in Eastern North America," at the Rosenbach Museum & Library, features colonial materials relating to North America. These concurrent shows demonstrate colonization's impact upon indigenous peoples and Europeans from the 15th through the 19th centuries. Rather than attempting to duplicate the physical exhibits, the web site synthesizes and expands upon them. It should not only complement the exhibits, but also stand alone as a resource for scholars and teachers.

Materials in this web site are presented thematically, rather than chronologically. Each of the six thematic categories (shown in red on the front page) is described on an overview page. Each overview page is linked to multiple subsections. Subsection pages present textual and thumbnail links to the larger images. To assist readers in navigation, each large image page includes links back to the thematic overview page and to the subsection pages. Of course, these categories do not represent the only possible way to organize and present these texts. They are intended to serve as guidelines, not as rigid interpretive structures, and whenever possible, we have created links between categories so that readers may juxtapose the materials shown here in ways useful to them.

A note on the preparation of images for the web site:
It would be inaccurate to label the images of texts here "facsimiles," if that word is taken to mean an exact copy or reproduction of an original. Most of the images were created from scans of color slides; others from direct scans of original materials; and a few from scans of black-and-white photographs. While we do intend these images to mimic the appearance of the originals, we have altered the color and sharpness of images in order to enhance their "readability" - to make them as clear as possible on a computer monitor. We have also selected uniform sizes in which to present most of the images, although the original materials are of many different sizes: 500 pixels high for vertical images, and 500 to 750 pixels wide for horizontal images. These sizes allow the images to fit on most computer monitors without scrolling. We make no claim that what appears on this site can substitute for the objects themselves, but instead propose these digital versions as enlightening artifacts distinct from the originals which they "reproduce."

John Pollack
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
University of Pennsylvania Library


CULTURAL READINGS: Colonization and Print in the Americas
A collaborative on-line exhibition

Books, manuscripts, and artifacts courtesy of the following institutions:

Based on two exhibitions:

We are grateful for the support of:

Front page design based on the Tovar Calendar, 1830-60.

We welcome comments on this web exhibition.
Write to John Pollack:

Exhibition Contents | Introduction | Essays | Bibliography & Links

Last update: Monday, 05-Oct-2015 00:09:32 EDT
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