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Mining the Languages of Empire Through UNM Library Collections

Mining the Languages of Empire in the Early Americas is the title of a recent article published by Dr. Allison Bigelow, a former Visiting Library Scholar at the University of New Mexico (UNM). The article draws upon the research she conducted while in residence at UNM in Spring 2013.

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Visiting Library Scholars are recognized through the Latin American and Iberian Institute's Richard E. Greenleaf Visiting Library Scholar Award, which honors Dr. Richard E. Greenleaf, distinguished scholar of colonial Latin American history, and his extensive career in teaching, research, and service. Awarded annually, the distinction is conferred jointly by the LAII and University Libraries (UL) at UNM to provide visiting researchers with the opportunity to come to Albuquerque to use UNM's Latin American library collections, which are among the largest and most complete Latin American collections in the country.

"Mining the Languages of Empire in the Early Americas" was published in The Appendix, a quarterly journal of experimental and narrative history. It draws in part upon the research which Bigelow conducted while in residence at UNM last year, during which time she used UL's archives to examine the question of "Technical Literacies and Unlettered Work: Women Miners in the Seventeenth Century Andes."

The recent article not only draws upon Bigelow's use of UNM's Latin American library collections, but also highlights the overall value of using archival records to inform scholarship across disciplines. As she writes in her closing paragraph: "By digging into old archives in new ways...[we] take texts in their original languages to root out the epistemological play of discourse and mine the coloniality of power..."

Bigelow is an Institute/NEH Fellow at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, and Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the College of William and Mary. She earned BAs in English and Spanish from the University of Maryland-College Park in 2003 and received her PhD in 2012 from the Department of English & Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Between college and graduate school, she taught English in a copper mine outside of Mamiña, Chile (I Región), an experience that complements her teaching and research on multilingual colonial literatures and informs her current project, "Mining Empire, Planting Empire: The Colonial Scientific Literatures of the Americas." This study explains how colonial scientific discourses and practices serve as organizing grammars for settlement. From elaborate taxonomies of "castas de metales" and technologies that purify "metales mulatos" and "negrillos" to theories of setting and sowing upon heathen heaths and cultivating the "Moor-hawks" who inhabit those fenny spaces, Bigelow's work roots out the epistemological play of discourse and mines the coloniality of power in seventeenth-century writing. Her research in the United States, Cuba, Bolivia, Peru, and Yucatán has been generously supported by the U.S. Department of State, the John Carter Brown Library, the Huntington Library, and the Program in Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Image: Reprinted from The Appendix. Attributed to Benjamin Breen, 2013, with caption reading: "In Potosí, the mining capital of the early modern world, smelted metals became entangled with the mingled identities of Spanish America."

--Posted Wednesday, March 26, 2014.