Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Romance Languages

First Advisor

Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel


This dissertation examines the centrality of objects and material culture in the invention of the New World. Paying heed to understudied connections between historically contingent texts and their transatlantic contexts, it excavates the role of colonial objects in shaping colonial discourse during the first three centuries of Spain’s rule in Mexico, Peru, and the Hispanic Caribbean (1492–1810). In order to uncover the “makedness” of colonial racializing schemas, “Colonial Assemblages” traces the emergence of a material discourse invested in the Indian as a trope and a figure that masks the multiple tensions operating simultaneously in colonial representations since at least the 1500s, but that reached new heights during the Hispanic Enlightenment. Chapter 1 studies the emergence of a dialectic, multistable concept and material entity, the New World object, in Christopher Columbus’s Diario del primer viaje (c. 1493). The second chapter analyzes representations of colonial gold as a fetish of early modern imperialism and as a foundational materiality of colonial Latin American discourse in texts by Columbus, Hernán Cortés, Bartolomé de Las Casas, and engravings by Theodor De Bry. Chapter 3 argues that the cartographic grid and the space of the traza foreground a discourse of abstraction enacted by colonial objects and commodities that serve to exclude the “ugly Indian” in Bernardo de Balbuena’s Grandeza mexicana (1604). The fourth chapter demonstrates how certain objects were linked to Andean and transatlantic notions of space and territoriality, and to the definition of indio and mestizo identities, in the works of Guaman Poma de Ayala and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega respectively. Finally, chapter 5 studies the racial portraits of New Spain as well as historical accounts and treatises by Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora and Antonio de Leon y Gama to illustrate how material culture becomes a contested site of representation for criollismo. This new focus on the textual and social life of objects charts an alternative path to present critiques of coloniality presuming the homogeneous expansion of lettered culture by further underscoring the conceptual value of material culture as a powerful agent in the dynamic assemblage of colonialism in the New World.


Available to all on Friday, March 15, 2019

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