Knowing Animals and Insects in the Spanish Atlantic, 1500–1800

AHA Session 32
Conference on Latin American History 6
Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Grand Ballroom Salon A (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Zeb Tortorici, University of California at Los Angeles
Domesticating Versus Adopting in the Columbian Exchange
Marcy Norton, George Washington University
Constructing the Medicinal Hummingbird in the Hernandian Corpus, 1571–1651
Iris Montero Sobrevilla, University of Cambridge
Killing Locusts in Colonial Guatemala
Martha Few, University of Arizona
Harriet Ritvo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Session Abstract

Columbus’ arrival on Caribbean soil marked the beginning of a rich history of interactions between peoples with originally distinct conceptions of the animal world. European fascination with parrots and iguanas was first met with Amerindian amazement at horses and cattle. But in the colonial setting, European and Amerindian ways of knowing animals and insects gradually hybridized. The exotic hummingbird became a proxy for representing the Holy Spirit and livestock became central to agriculture. This panel explores how human interactions with animals and insects resulted in new ways of understanding and relating to nature in the early modern Spanish Atlantic.  Drawing from the histories of science and medicine, environmental history, animal studies, anthropology and colonial history, the panel presents case studies that illustrate the construction and circulation of hybrid knowledge about animals and insects. Early records by Amerindian elites, missionaries, government officials and travelers, as well as a vast corpus of pre-Columbian visual evidence provide a unique window to the understanding of human-animal interaction in the case of Spanish America. By looking at animal domestication or adoption practices, the exploitation of medicinal animals and insect extermination technologies, the panel suggests that human-animal interaction was crucial to the conformation of the colonial order that emerged in the early modern Spanish Atlantic.

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