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Volume 62 / Humanities

LITERATURE: SPANISH AMERICA: Colonial Period


Jennifer L. Eich, Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures, Loyola Marymount University

AFTER EXPERIENCING A 15-YEAR PERIOD of heightened activity and general interest—stemming from both scholarly and public interest generated by the marking of the Quincentennary of the European encounter with the Americas— colonial Latin American Studies is returning to a more modest state of affairs. Fortunately, this diminution does not mean that interest has returned to the level of near neglect from which the discipline had suffered previously. Indeed, the now steady growth of Latin American Studies is fueled by critical and theoretical interest that has continued to evolve and has, in turn, led to the creation of literary and linguistic studies that comprise promising, vigorous, and new areas of investigation.

This critical development and disciplinary expansion is evidenced and supported by scholarly work being done on both sides of the Atlantic: typically generated as a response and discussion with "postcolonial" topics and now encompassed under the heading of Transatlantic Studies. Simultaneously, a generally interdisciplinary and hardworking group of comparativist scholars has turned their geographical gaze to the continental Americas, organizing conferences that look at French-American, Anglo-American, Ibero-American, and American indigenous topics and authors.

Indeed, the sheer diversity of cultural products—textual, visual, cultural—that now inspire scholars and their students has fostered an atmosphere whose very nature is comparative and interdisciplinary. This change in esthetics, investigative material, and cultural appreciation has required a simultaneous evolution in critical methodology and analytical approaches. The passage of time—some academic journals are currently offering topical retrospectives of 20, 25, and 30 years—along with internet interconnectivity has created a global community of new and established scholars with entree to a wealth of previously almost inaccessible material. This combination of researchers and resources has led to a questioning of the very definition of Hispanic Studies. Fertile discussions and follow-up exchanges held via conferences, symposia, academic print and e-journal articles and letters, and the internet have advanced reexaminations of canonic works and authors. The scholarly dialogue also has encouraged reevaluations of university pedagogy and curricula, fortuitously resulting in new editions, translations, and anthologies and the publication of manuscript and oral materials.

The energy generated by theoretical and literary critics' interest in postcolonial theory, which first focused on literature written in English, has been transferred to texts written in Spanish with significant results for Latin American Studies. In part, this has led to continued recuperation of marginalized peoples and cultures, especially the textual and oral cultural products of indigenous and, most recently, Afro-Hispanic civilizations and peoples. Recent historiographical studies, especially those that examine race, class, and gender, are timely and essential contributions for reading the colonial experience. Although the a-chronic nature of oral histories would appear to yield a synchronic quality to the scholarly studies that examine these texts, attempts to link their current existence, content, and themes have also brought about diachronic studies that link these histories to earlier written texts. These investigations are generally most productive with regard to late colonial and postcolonial American colonized peoples, featuring as they do textualized efforts of cultural subaltern resistance.

Colonial and precolombian indigenous Andean studies continue to expand, exploring topics that are more thematically Indoamerican and less Eurocentric in their analytical frameworks. The varieties, procedures, and discursive practices of Indoamericans in general are being recorded and studied and several newer journals focus specifically on this material. Dictionaries, translations, and language studies continue to appear but the sheer quantity of material and dearth of scholars trained to carry out the task of recording vanishing material is daunting, given the cyclical, and now client-based, nature of financial support for academics which follows trends just as business does. More promising, however, is the fact that Central and South American textual studies are achieving prominence, most frequently inspired by comparativist American and linguistic scholars.

The study of colonial and 19th-century texts within the field of Gender Studies continues to flourish, with theoretical and political incentives motivating this now second and sometimes third generation of scholars. Interest in Sor Juana continues unabated, although studies of her work are often of texts previously overlooked, (e.g., her religious writings or sacred poems and music) or multidisciplinary. Recognition and recuperation continues to drive studies of other women writers, especially female religious writers, such as pseudomystics, nuns, and women caught in the nets of the Inquisition.

Another trend within Colonial Studies has been the study of colonial culture and its intersections with European thought. Scholars are looking at early Spanish American manifestations of Spanish hegemony and imperialism, as well as later manifestations in 19th-century ideology and politics, especially the ways that Spanish thought influenced and shaped independence-era nation-building. We now find a broadening of definitions, as well as a broadening of time periods, involved in regional "nationalism" and "modernity." Currently, the 19th century draws the attention of both senior and junior scholars, often yielding groundbreaking studies of travel narratives, political figures, literary works, epistolary works, and periodical production. This newest area has necessitated a broadening of genre studies to include those previously considered "a-literary": newspapers, pamphlets, religious writings and art, iconography, and so on. It has also meant that studies are often multidisciplinary inasmuch as they recuperate, re-imagine, re-evaluate, and bring together textual, visual, and plastic cultural products from different parts of the Americas.


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