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date: 30 March 2023

European Antiquarianism and the Americaslocked

European Antiquarianism and the Americaslocked

  • Alain SchnappAlain SchnappÉcole d'histoire de l'art et d'archéologie de la Sorbonne


The discovery of the Americas occurred at a time when the Renaissance was upending European sciences, especially history and its representation. Suddenly there appeared peoples who seemed to be the exact opposite of Europeans on account of their customs and techniques, and others, like the Incas or the Aztecs, who seem to compete with the Romans of antiquity, as much with their political system as with their sumptuous monuments. Before that, the West had never been confronted with such a clash of civilizations occurring within only a few decades. While new generations of scholars in Europe were reinterpreting the classical heritage, others set about exploring pre-Roman cultures, interpreting runes, and describing megaliths. This intellectual revolution went hand in hand with the foundation of an ethnographic knowledge enriched with a practice of images that overturned knowledge. Scholars undertook to depict the mores of the Indians with the same enthusiasm as they had depicted those of the first inhabitants of Europe. They became interested in the glyphs of the Aztecs and Mayas with a tenacity identical to that deployed to decipher Roman or Greek inscriptions. The Mexican or Peruvian antiquarians of the 16th and 17th centuries, some of whom were the descendants of the indigenous elites, had no reason to be envious of their European colleagues. Beyond the terrible violence of colonization, the singularity of the discovery of the Americas lies in the foundation of a transatlantic culture that, on both sides of the ocean, drew the contours of a universal history of humanity.


  • History of Latin America and the Oceanic World

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