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Cultural Readings: Colonization and Print in the Americas
Created and maintained by the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of Pennsylvania.
Reviewed Feb. 1–4, 2009.

This Web site is based on two 1997–1998 exhibitions of rare printed books and manuscripts held in Philadelphia. These mostly European texts deal with Spanish, British, and French colonization in the Americas. The site showcases title pages, pictorial images, maps, and pages of text from these books and manuscripts. Most examples are not full-text; William Penn’s 1735 “The Benefits of Plantations, or Colonies,” appears in full; otherwise a few pages represent longer works. These pages reveal much, however. Title pages from two sixteenth-century editions of René de Laudonnière’s history of Florida, one published in France and another by Theodor de Bry in Germany, reflect widespread European interest in the Americas. Images from Edward King’s and Alexander von Humboldt’s books on Mexican antiquities reveal how Native American cultures captured European imaginations into the nineteenth century. Hernando Cortés’s 1526 handwritten power of attorney gives a sense of the manuscript sources available to historians. The dedication preceding Black Hawk’s 1834 autobiography appears in English and Sauk-Fox and shows that translating between native and European languages and cultures remained important into the nineteenth century. The material is divided into six thematic categories and is accompanied by a bibliography of secondary sources; five scholarly essays by Louise M. Burkhart, Sabine MacCormack, Karim Tiro, and others; and links to Web sites, half of which still function.

Although the texts are largely European produced, the site is grounded in contemporary scholarship that looks at colonization from a native as well as a European viewpoint. The site presents colonization as an exchange affecting both groups. John Eliot’s 1666 The Indian Grammar from Massachusetts, Alonso de Molina’s Spanish-Nahuatl dictionary, and French Jesuits' writings in indigenous languages exemplify how European missionaries translated concepts for native audiences. As Burkhart’s essay shows, translation opened Christian concepts to native interpretation and could even change the meaning of those concepts. Captivity narratives show how individual Europeans were changed by contact with native groups. The title page of an 1811 speech by Red Jacket protesting U.S. expansionism shows Native American cultural resistance and resilience, as does the sixteenth-century Guatemalan manuscript containing catechisms and other documents in Kekchi, Quiché, Latin, and Spanish. Although produced by a missionary, that manuscript reminds us that native languages and cultures survived contact. While native-produced sources from British areas predominate over those from other areas, the overall balance is fairly even.

Although the site is related to physical exhibits, it functions independently, offering access to a unique collection of texts brought together from the University of Pennsylvania Library, the University of Pennsylvania Museum Library, the Rosenbach Museum and Library, and the Jay I. Kislak Foundation. The images are clear, and the site is user friendly. The home page displays the themes, and an introductory page explains the site’s concept. Texts are clearly labeled, described, and interpreted, although a search function would have made finding specific texts easier. The images are engaging and illustrate important concepts, and the site introduces visitors to the literature of contact. This fascinating site continues to serve as an important resource for instructors of undergraduate courses, as well as for other visitors.

Joan Bristol
George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia