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Spanish America in Eighteenth-Century European Travel Compilations: a New "Art of Reading" and the Transition To Modernity

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By the mid-eighteenth century sixteenth-century Spanish American testimonies on the New World suddely lost credibility with European audiences. This study seeks to explain this curious episode and traces it to new developments in ways to create and validate knowledge in early modern Europe. The genre of travel accounts proved instrumental in undermining the authority of Spanish accounts. Editors of travel compilations developed a "new art of reading" that privileged "internal" over "external" criticism. If in the past editors apportioned credit according to the number, character, and social standing of witnesses and favored knowledge gathered personally through the senses, by the mid-eighteenth century editors read accounts in the light of contemporary social theories : those accounts that proved inconsistent with the theories of political economy were dismissed. The reliability of sixteenth century Spanish eyewitnesses on the grandeur of the Aztec and Inca civilizations was called into question because these witnesses were deemed incapable of regulating their perceptions through reason (good taste). Since the new art of reading deployed by editors of travel compilations emerged out of a close dialogue between Europe and its colonies, this study shows the deep colonial roots of European modernity.

Affiliations: 1: Illinois State University


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