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CULTURAL READINGS: Colonization & Print in the Americas


Acosta
Special Collections, University of Pennsylvania Library
Josť de Acosta,
The Naturall and Morall Historie of the East and West Indies.

London: Val. Sims, 1604.

Forced by the existence of the New World into rethinking categories of civilization laid out by ancient writers, Acosta, a Jesuit, organized gentiles of the world into three levels. At the top were those cultures with arts, sciences, letters, and political life (Europeans, but also Chinese, Japanese, and Syrians). Next were those with polities and legal codes but, Acosta thought, without arts or letters (Aztecs, Incas). Finally, Acosta placed those groups he considered nomadic savages. His trinitarian hierarchy is early evidence of the sort of classificatory ranking that would characterize much ethnology through the 19th century.

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