Beyond the Lettered City

Indigenous Literacies in the Andes

Beyond the Lettered City

Narrating Native Histories

More about this series

Book Pages: 392 Illustrations: 58 b&w illustrations, 2 charts, 9 color plates Published: December 2011

Art and Visual Culture, Latin American Studies > Andes, Native and Indigenous Studies

In Beyond the Lettered City, the anthropologist Joanne Rappaport and the art historian Tom Cummins examine the colonial imposition of alphabetic and visual literacy on indigenous groups in the northern Andes. They consider how the Andean peoples received, maintained, and subverted the conventions of Spanish literacy, often combining them with their own traditions. Indigenous Andean communities neither used narrative pictorial representation nor had alphabetic or hieroglyphic literacy before the arrival of the Spaniards. To absorb the conventions of Spanish literacy, they had to engage with European symbolic systems. Doing so altered their worldviews and everyday lives, making alphabetic and visual literacy prime tools of colonial domination. Rappaport and Cummins advocate a broad understanding of literacy, including not only reading and writing, but also interpretations of the spoken word, paintings, wax seals, gestures, and urban design. By analyzing secular and religious notarial manuals and dictionaries, urban architecture, religious images, catechisms and sermons, and the vast corpus of administrative documents produced by the colonial authorities and indigenous scribes, they expand Ángel Rama’s concept of the lettered city to encompass many of those who previously would have been considered the least literate.


Beyond the Lettered City reveals the complexity of Andean society, the challenges of new administrative procedures, and the interaction between Spaniards and the indigenous peoples who were able to become their own advocates.” — Carlos Damian, Hispanic American Historical Review

“In this interesting contribution to the study of colonial expression, the authors take a novel approach to analysing culture by combining anthropology with art history. The result is an original perspective on how colonial domination at the level of meaning took place….The authors provide striking and dramatic examples of how the natives engaged with and internalised this new visual culture.” — EC, Latin American Review of Books

This ambitious, detailed volume radically extends the concept of literacy as set forth in Angel Rama's classic The Lettered City (Eng. tr., 1996) to include visual representation as well as alphabetic. . . . A carefully researched contribution to Latin American native studies and colonial discourse. Highly recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty.” — D. L. Heyck, Choice

“A richly researched work of mature, broad-reaching scholarship, Beyond the Lettered City is at the same time an experiment in innovative historiography. It is likely to intrigue art-oriented and letter-oriented readers for a long time to come.” — Frank Salomon, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

“The collection of such a vast set of visual images is alone a momentous task. The breadth of scholarship is impressive. Text and image blend effortlessly in the fine narrative. Many forms of literacies are explored. I am certain that others, as they read and reread sections, will be stimulated as I am to explore further.” — Noble David Cook, Ethnohistory

Beyond the Lettered City is an exceptionally important, path-breaking contribution to the study of the transformations of society and culture in the northern and central Andes from the time of the Iberian invasion until the early 18th century.”  — Gary Urton, ReVista

“... this is an important book of essays, based on solid archival research and vast reading in the secondary sources. It expands the concept of literacy by adding a focus on non-alphabetic indigenous signs and symbols, such as those inscribed on paper, canvas, land, buildings, walls, and bodies.” — Susan Elizabeth Ramírez, The Americas

“Clearly, Rappaport and Cummins have contributed greatly to our understanding of how indigenous people seized on the possibilities of colonialism and, in doing so, changed the parameters of literacy. Their book is a welcomed addition to scholars and graduate students interested in questions of comparative colonialisms, Andean societies, and ongoing debates around literacy and its discontents.” — Rachel Sarah O’Toole, Colonial Latin American Review

Beyond the Lettered City represents an important, innovative, and interdisciplinary study that should be mandatory reading for anyone seriously interested in the art, history, and culture of colonial Spanish America. More broadly, it deserves an audience among scholars of other colonial and postcolonial societies where the issues of artistic cultural adaptation and transfer also are topics of major concern.” — Richard L. Kagan, Catholic Historical Review

“Rappaport’s and Cummins’s rigorously researched book offers an interdisciplinary perspective (anthropology and art history) on an important topic in Latin-American studies. . . . It furthers our understanding of indigenous literacies, complementing other studies focused on archives and intellectual production in the Andes. Beyond the Lettered City also illustrates continued progress in uncovering the experiences and contributions of native peoples in the Americas, including the northern Andeans who lived at the borders of empire (both indigenous and Spanish), and who did not produce native-language documents.” — Dana Velasco Murillo, Bulletin of Spanish Studies

“This book is a seminal text, an important addition to scholarship not only on the history of the Andes and colonial Latin America but on the semiotic, material, and meaning-making dimensions of colonial encounters generally. The book’s argument for a radically expanded notion of literacy is made with riveting force and precision. Received ideas about literacy and the domination of the written word have rarely been attacked through such a richly evocative analytic framework." — Paja Faudree, Journal of Anthropological Research

"The authors convincingly demonstrate that native Andeans and mestizos used and transformed the European alphabetic expression. . . . The argument of expanding the concept of the 'lettered city' beyond the written word is thoroughly researched and clearly organized." — Sara Vicuña Guengerich, Colonial Latin American Historical Review

“…Beyond the Lettered City offers a fascinating contribution to the discussion of orality and the power of alphabetic literacy….[It] weaves a rich tapestry of literate practices in the northern Andes." — Freya Schiwy, Bulletin of Latin American Research

"Beyond the Lettered City is full of highly original arguments and discoveries, and should be read by anyone with an interest in colonial Latin American art and writing." — Alan Durston, Anthropos

Beyond the Lettered City is a landmark study. It expands our understanding of colonial Andean culture by focusing on areas at the margins of pre-Hispanic Inka control (present-day Colombia and Ecuador). Even more important is the authors’ approach to cultural analysis. Examining the intersections of genres of cultural expression, including writing, painting, architecture, and performance, Joanne Rappaport and Thomas Cummins suggest that participation in literacy involved a great deal more than learning to read alphabetically inscribed texts and produce images according to European regimes of pictorial representation. Rappaport and Cummins show that native literacies were crucial arenas in which colonial culture was created, negotiated, and contested.” — Carolyn Dean, author of A Culture of Stone: Inka Perspectives on Rock

Beyond the Lettered City is a major contribution not only to South American colonial studies but also to broader debates about literacy and visual culture. It reveals the complex and varied interactions among European alphabetic writing, indigenous literacy systems, and the spoken languages of both the colonizers and the colonized. It also shows how indigenous actors engaged Castilian knowledge and literacy and turned them into their own decolonial advocacy.” — Walter D. Mignolo, author of The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Joanne Rappaport is Professor of Anthropology and of Spanish and Portuguese at Georgetown University. She is the author of Intercultural Utopias: Public Intellectuals, Cultural Experimentation, and Ethnic Pluralism in Colombia, also published by Duke University Press.

Thomas Cummins is Dumbarton Oaks Professor of the History of Pre-Columbian and Colonial Latin American Art at Harvard University. He is the author of Toasts with the Inca: Andean Abstraction and Colonial Images on Quero Vessels.

Table of Contents Back to Top
About the Series ix

List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction 1

1. Imagining Colonial Culture 27

2. Genre/Gender/Género: "Que no es uno ni otro, ni está claro" 53

3. The Indigenous Lettered City 113

4. Genres in Action 153

5. The King's Quillca and the Rituality of Literacy 191

6. Reorienting the Colonial Body: Space and the Imposition of Literacy 219

Conclusion 251

Glossary 259

Notes 263

References Cited 317

Index 353
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Winner, 2012 Bryce Wood Book Award (Latin American Studies Association)

Winner, 2012 Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize, presented by the Modern Language Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5128-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5116-0
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