Forthcoming Deans Seminar: Enlightening the khipu: views on the Incas’ writing system in 18th century learned circles

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Eighteenth-century Europe provided an unprecedented scene for the elaboration of a literature, both scholarly and fictional, on the Inca civilization. In a context of reflexion on imperialistic rules and the related debate on the diversity of the human mind, the historical chronicles on the Inca Empire inspired many political writings, philosophical essays, novels, plays and operas. The issues of native writing and its capacity to convey abstract concepts were central to these works, from de Grafigny’s Lettres d’une péruvienne (1747), to Sangro’s Lettera apologetica (1750) or the Encyclopédie’s (1751-1772) multiple entries on the Incas. This paper examines views on the khipu in this literature from a transnational perspective and across the elusive boundary between fiction and scholarship. In doing so, it offers to shed a better light on a popular object of intellectual speculation that fed the ethnological discourse of the Enlightenment.

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