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Latin American Print Culture in the 16th and 17th Centuries: The Colonial Period  

Blanca López de Mariscal

The first printing workshops established in New Spain had been entrusted with a particular goal: they were designed to serve as support for the enormous work of indoctrination carried out by the mendicant orders—the so-called evangelization of the indigenous population. The Spanish Crown had assigned the first missionaries with the task of edifying the souls of those inhabitants in its new domains, both the Indians and the Spaniards, as well as creoles and mestizos who formed part of this new society. Therefore, the complex process of evangelization of the Indians became an overwhelming endeavor for the mendicant orders, requiring the support of the printing press. New works intended for the evangelization of the Indians began to appear, but Indians would not be the readers of such works; instead, their authors provided the missionaries with tools for the process of evangelization. These texts, often bilingual, facilitated communication with the inhabitants of the New World, particularly works on Christian doctrine, confessional manuals, sermons, and grammars (artes de la lengua). Accordingly, these genres were locally produced throughout the 16th century, and designed as instruments for the massive evangelization of the Indians. When considering the history of the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries it is crucial to consider the arrival of the first books, the coming of the printing press as an instrument to facilitate evangelization of the New World, reading practices amongst Spaniards and mestizos, the formation of the first libraries, and the establishment of booksellers in the viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru.

Article

Oral Culture: Literacy, Religion, Performance  

Cara Anne Kinnally

While cultural critics and historians have demonstrated that print culture was an essential tool in the development of national, regional, and local communal identities in Latin América, the role of oral culture, as a topic of inquiry and a source itself, has been more fraught. Printed and hand-written texts often leave behind tangible archival evidence of their existence, but it can be more difficult to trace the role of oral culture in the development of such identities. Historically, Western society has deeply undervalued oral cultures, especially those practiced or created by non-Westerners and non-elites. Even before the arrival of the first printing presses to the Americas, starting with the very first encounters between Spaniards and indigenous peoples in the Americas in the late-15th and early-16th centuries, European conquerors understood and portrayed European alphabetic written script as a more legitimate, and therefore more valuable, form of history and knowledge-making than oral forms. Those cultures without alphabetic writing were deemed barbaric, according to this logic. Despite its undervaluation, oral culture was one of the principal ways in which vast numbers of Latinas/os were exposed to, engaged with, and exchanged ideas about politics, religion, social change, and local and regional community identity during the colonial period. In particular, oral culture often offers the perspective of underrepresented voices, such as those of peasants, indigenous communities, afro-Latinas/os, women, and the urban poor, in Latina/o historical, literary, and cultural studies. During the colonial period especially, many of these communities often did not produce their own European script writing or find their perspectives and experiences illuminated in the writings of the letrados, or lettered elites, and their voices thus remain largely excluded from the print archive. Studies of oral culture offer a corrective to this omission, since it was through oral cultural practices that many of these communities engaged with, contested, and redefined the public discourses of their day. Oral culture in the colonial period comprised a broad range of rich cultural and artistic practices, including music, various types of poetry and balladry, oral history, legend, performance, religious rituals, ceremonies, festivals, and much more. These practices served as a way to remember and share ideas, values, and experiences both intraculturally and interculturally, as well as across generations. Oral culture also changes how the impact of print culture is understood, since written texts were often disseminated to the masses through oral practices. In the missions of California and the present-day US Southwest, for example, religious plays served as one of the major vehicles for the forced education and indoctrination of indigenous communities during the colonial period. To understand such a play, it is important to consider not just the printed text but also the performance of the play, as well as the ways in which the audience understands and engages with the play and its religious teachings. The study of oral culture in the Latina/o context, therefore, includes an examination of how literate, illiterate, and semi-literate Latinas/os have engaged with, resisted, or repurposed various written forms, such as poetry, letters, theater, testimonios, juridical documents, broadsides, political treatises, religious texts, and the sermon, through oral cultural practices and with various objectives in mind. Oral culture, in all of its many forms, has thus served as an important means for the circulation of knowledge and the expression of diverse world views for Latinas/os throughout the colonial period and into the 21st century.