Part II Barber and Berdan, Methods

I like the point the authors make about resisting the urge to label as liars those who create documents we find to be untrue or embellished.  Using the categories of “emphasis, selection, and distortion” to analyze the “tainted” nature of sources helps us to avoid this pitfall (see pg. 164).


Visual Interpretation

B and B’s ideas on interpreting visual images was interesting.  Altogether I think they did a good job of synthesizing a vast array of perspectives and I feel that their criteria are relevant.  May I add a though I gleaned from the work of Carolyn Dean and Dana Leibsohn who made an argument about interpreting material and visual culture (in the context of early Spanish America ethnohistory). The authors show that ethnohistorians are “programmed” to search for the pre-Hispanic indigenous elements in colonial society, making an argument for cultural persistence.  Unfortunately, many ethnohistorians forget that “hybridity” goes both ways.  For example, when building a Cathedral in Cuzco, the native Andean workers used stones from a “pagan” temple and used traditional construction methods to build the cathedral–piling up massive mounds of dirt then rolling the stones up then on rolling logs.  This example points to what Dean and Leibsohn call the “deception of visibility.”  In Mexico, native officials drew up land grants and used traditional glyphs to draw up maps.  Historians found later that a Spaniard had edited the map but used the native glyphs rather than Spanish-style iconography.  I think Dean and Leibsohn add an important insight for interpreting visual images (and any other source for that matter) by suggesting that we should no be simply looking for signs of “nativeness” but rather focuss on the mechanisms by which hybrid cultural expressions are made and enacted.  Moreover, that we tune our historical eyes to the various ways in which Europeans received and adopted new cultural practices.




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