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Geographies of Philological Knowledge

Postcoloniality and the Transatlantic National Epic

Geographies of Philological Knowledge examines the relationship between medievalism and colonialism in the nineteenth-century Hispanic American context through the striking case of the Creole Andrés Bello (1781–1865), a Venezuelan grammarian, editor, legal scholar, and politician, and his lifelong philological work on the medieval heroic narrative that would later become Spain’s national epic, the Poem of the Cid. Nadia R. Altschul combs Bello’s study of the poem and finds throughout it evidence of a “coloniality of knowledge.”
Altschul  reveals how, during the nineteenth century, the framework for philological scholarship established in and for core European nations—France, England, and especially Germany—was exported to Spain and Hispanic America as the proper way of doing medieval studies. She argues that the global designs of European philological scholarship are conspicuous in the domain of disciplinary historiography, especially when examining the local history of a Creole Hispanic American like Bello, who is neither fully European nor fully alien to European culture. Altschul likewise highlights Hispanic America’s intellectual internalization of coloniality and its understanding of itself as an extension of Europe.  
A timely example of interdisciplinary history, interconnected history, and transnational study, Geographies of Philological Knowledge breaks with previous nationalist and colonialist histories and thus forges a new path for the future of medieval studies.

264 pages | 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 | © 2012

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature, Romance Languages

Medieval Studies


“Fascinating, informative, and sophisticated, . . . the book encompasses a well-focused case study of the intellectual history, reception, and scholarly destiny of Andrés Bello’s early-nineteenth-century edition of the Poem of the Cid (completed in 1834 but not published until 1881). In this way, Altschul’s book constitutes a commendable and profound exploration of Bello’s work and his position in the context of the development of Hispanic philology, nineteenth- and twentieth-century transatlantic cultural relations, and the unspoken ideologies and dogmas that may animate the claims of all academic disciplines.”

E. Michael Gerli, University of Virginia | Speculum

“The book complements [Walter] Mignolo’s The Idea of Latin America and Edward Said’s Orientalism. Recommended.”

K. M. Kapanga, University of Richmond | Choice

“Like Michelle Warren’s Creole Medievalism, Nadia R. Altschul’s meticulous and comprehensive study belongs among those fascinating second-wave historiographies of academic medievalism that complicate the traditional monocausal connections drawn between medievalists’ nationality and the ideologies informing their philological practices. Her brilliant study of the medievalist work of polymath Andrés Bello (1781–1865) reveals an example of modern medieval scholarship anchored in a multiplicity of simultaneous subject positions: Creole vis-à-vis Spain; Venezuelan/Chilean vis-à-vis other ‘national’ American identities; Creole vis-à-vis Amerindians; and Creole vis-à-vis populations of African extraction. Within this web of mutually competing and/or reinforcing positionalities, Altschul questions simplistic binarities such as colonial/postcolonial, empire/colony, and indigenous/criollo and enriches our understanding of the constructed quality of the contested intellectual terrain medievalists still inhabit today.”

Richard Utz, Western Michigan University

Geographies of Philological Knowledge forges a compelling narrative of colonial knowledge production that brings together fields usually kept separate—medieval studies, Latin American studies, and postcolonial studies. Nadia R. Altschul remedies the scholarly oversights that have left Spain, criollos, and Amerindians alike out of influential narratives of intellectual history. In this highly readable monograph, Altschul makes philology’s global designs patently visible.”

Michelle R. Warren, Dartmouth College

“Nadia R. Altschul has been responsible for some of the most searching studies of the links between the European premodern past and the colonial enterprise. In her new book, she turns her attention to the Americas and to the central role of Andrés Bello in the formation of Latin American cultural identities. The result is a fundamental rethinking of an apparently authoritative humanism, revealing its Creole status. Beneath Altschul’s lucid and precise prose is a passionate intelligence. It will be welcomed not only by students of Spanish-language literatures but also by those in postcolonial studies and transnational American studies.”

John M. Ganim, author of Medievalism and Orientalism

“In this important study, Nadia R. Altschul takes as her point of departure the posthumous 1881 edition by Andrés Bello of the Castilian ‘national epic,’ Poema de mio Cid (largely completed by 1834). In her meditation on the ‘Creole medievalism’ of Bello, Altschul reveals many blind spots in our understandings of postcoloniality and of the historiography of medievalism itself, which, from this study on, cannot be fully understood without reference to the complex role played by Latin American (and, more broadly, American) medievalism—claiming American culture’s medieval European origins even as it introduces a ‘corrupting’ influence into the European medieval-nationalist-philological project—in shaping ideas of nation, of philology, and of the construction of ‘the West.’ One of the signal achievements of this book is that in it, Altschul show us how scholarship that grows out of personal passion and engagement can open up, not blind us to, the complexities of the subjects that move us.”

John Dagenais, University of California, Los Angeles

Table of Contents

Introduction: Creole Medievalism and Settler Postcolonial Studies

Part 1. The Coloniality of Hispanic American Philological Knowledge
1. The Global Standards of Intellectual and Disciplinary Historiography
2. Taken for Indians: “Native” Philology and Creole Culture Wars

Part 2. Metropolitan Philology and the Settler Creole Scholar
3. National Epic Denied: European Assertions of the Lack of a Spanish Epic
4. Andrés Bello and the Foundations of Spanish National Philology

Part 3. Medievalist Occidentalism for Spanish America
5. Defining the Spanish American National Epic and Other Occidentalist Resistances
6. The Spanish Orient in Bello’s Spanish American Occidentalism



Modern Language Association: MLA Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize
Honorable Mention

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