Circulation and Use of Indigenous Language Texts in New England

N. C. Christopher Couch (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Religious materials in New England created by John Eliot and his informants are believed to have played a role in extending secular literacy in indigenous languages in Massachusetts and beyond. Printed and manuscript materials are studied as preserved materials in repositories, but they circulated in various spheres in Colonial and early National New England. A sampling inventory of remaining documents combined with information on provenance and ownership could be mapped against the continued use of indigenous languages, the location of communities of “praying Indians” and early reservations to suggest the ways in which such works were used in a variety of communities using GIS or Google-map based software. Such an analysis would move us closer to an understanding of these books and broadsides as circulating, used works, and each remaining copy could contribute to our understanding of the role they played in literacy and language.  A second stage of the project might compare the circulation and use of printed and manuscript materials created by missionaries like Bernardino de Sahagun in indigenous language for conversion uses, including teaching doctrine, theatricals, and public prayer in New Spain (Mexico). questions that would not arise from examining either context alone. I would hope explore parallels between the role of indigenous literacy, fostered by missionary activity but extending far beyond “religious” contexts, in the creation of solidarity within Native communities in New Spain and New England.

N. C. Christopher Couch holds a Ph.D. in art history from Columbia University and is the author of books and articles on Latin American art and comics and graphic novels including Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics, The Will Eisner Companion, and The Festival Cycle of the Aztec Codex Borbonicus. He teaches at UMass Amherst, Amherst College, Trinity College, and School of Visual Arts, New York, and held fellowships at Institute for Advanced Study, Dumbarton Oaks, and Newberry Library.


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