The Visual Art of Grammar: Iconographies of Language from Europe to the Americas (weekend seminar)

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Weekend Seminar at Brown University
Held 1-2 November 2019

Grammar was the cornerstone of Renaissance humanism. The design and decoration of manuscripts and books devoted to the discipline signaled its importance, while elaborate diagrams and allegorical illustrations gave a fuller impression of the vital role of grammar in education. Such visualizations could acquire deeper significance, given the connection in ancient Greek between gramma, “drawing” or “letter,” and grammatike, source of the Latin grammatica. Further depictions and emblems were devised by creole and native artists in the Americas, as missionary linguists applied the European art of grammar to the systematization of indigenous languages in the New World. This interdisciplinary seminar will welcome participants to consider the early modern iconography of grammar as a basis for exploring broader historical conceptions of the relation between language and the visual field. Participants will also have the opportunity to examine copies of relevant Renaissance texts from the John Hay Library as well as a number of grammars, artes (manuals), and vocabularies of American languages in the John Carter Brown Library.

Director: Andrew Laird is John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor of Classics and Humanities at Brown University. His books include Powers of Expression, Expressions of Power (1999), The Epic of America (2006) and Antiquities and Classical Traditions in Latin America (2018). His most recent publications treat the relation of Latin to Amerindian languages, and the influence of European humanism on missionaries and native scholars in post-conquest Mexico. The seminar will be joined by Ahuvia Kahane (Trinity College Dublin).


Zainab Cheema, Postgraduate Instructor – English, American University

Marlena Cravens, Ph.D. Candidate – Comparative Literature, University of Texas, Austin

Mallory Matsumoto, Ph.D. Candidate – Anthropology, Brown University

Stephanie Pope, Ph.D. Candidate – English, Princeton University

Alanna Radlo-Dzur, Ph.D. Student – History of Art, The Ohio State University

Kelly Rafey, Ph.D. Student – History, Harvard University

Jessica Stair, Postdoctoral Fellow – History of Art or Architecture, Brown University


Primary Sources

Gilberti, Maturino, Fray. Grammatica Maturini, 1559.
Gilberti, Maturino, Fray. Arte de la lengua de Michuacan, 1558.
Gilberti, Maturino, Fray. Vocabulario en lengua de Mechacan, 1559.
de Santo Tomas, Domingo, Fray. Grammatica o arte de la lengua general de los Indios de los reynos del Peru, 1560.

Secondary Sources

Mignolo, Walter. "The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Colonization and the Discontinuity of the Classical Tradition," Renaissance Quarterly 45:4 (Winter, 1992), 808–828. The University of Chicago Press.
Sayers, Dorothy L. (Dorothy Leigh). The lost tools of learning : paper read at a vacation course in education, Oxford, 1947. London: Methuen, 1948.