Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Colonial Rule and the Culture of Writing

Date: June 20 - 22, 2007

Organizers: Barbara Job, Sebastian Thies, Rosa Yañes Rosales (all Bielefeld)

The workshop enjoyed a wide international participation-the participants coming from all parts of the Americas: Canada, the United States, Central and South America as well as Germany and the Netherlands. The disciplines represented by the participants reached from anthropological linguistics and socio-linguistics, literacy and cultural studies to historical studies.
The workshop treated crucial questions about the linguistic and cultural contacts between European and indigenous cultures in the colonial context. In the scope of interregional area studies researchers in the field of colonial Anglo-, Franco-, Hispano- and Luso-Americas came together and discussed current topics of research. In the centre of interest, topics such as the emerging discourse traditions of the colonial 'Third' space that originated in different ways both in the indigenous as in the European cultural traditions were discussed. In the very intense and stimulating discussions the notion of discourse tradition proved to be a powerful concept that allows bringing together different analytical approaches in the same time as it shows its relevance to the historic members of the societies under examination. Within this framework crucial research concepts were discussed such as forms of collective memory and identity, the types of writing systems, forms of representations of the cultural "other" in linguistic descriptions and poetic texts as well as processes of transculturation of indigenous discourse traditions and the development of "hybrid" forms of colonial culture.
The broad range of colonial regions under examination in the talks showed both eminent differences (as, for example, concerning the pre-colonial forms of cultural memory in the different indigenous cultures ranging from oral performances to the highly ideological use of writing systems but also in the attitude of the involved European powers to the autochthonous tribes) and interesting similarities (as, for example, in the influences of grammatical traditions on the description of indigenous languages).
Europeans made extensive use of their written discourse traditions for their colonial matters. Narratives and poetic texts but also legal and educational discourse traditions were crucial to arousing European interest in America. In the contact with pre-existing indigenous cultural traditions the colonial situation led to the emergence of new hybrid discourse traditions that integrated different forms of collective and cultural memory. The sheer number and importance of texts produced in the colonial contact situations gives evidence of European concern over their relations with Indians.
There was no single native response to the technology of alphabetic writing. Many Indians as the Inuit and the Cree took up writing and used it as a resource for cultural revitalization, resistance, and self-representation. Others, like the Iroquois self-consciously disdained the written word in favour of their oral traditions. Indians that had themselves written discourse practices as the Aztecs placed great value on the symbolic power of their texts and at the same time enlarged their cultural practice in adapting the European writing system and discourse traditions to testify their own history and experiences.
Dealing with a comparative trans-regional approach to the colonial history of the Americas, the workshop established a fruitful interdisciplinary dialogue between disciplines such as cultural studies, the history of culture, religion and political history, as well as sociolinguistics and contact linguistics.
The results of our workshop will be published by the organisation team in the series Interamerican Perspectives / Perspectivas Interamericanas.

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