The Farther Shores of Literacy: Amerindian Graphic invention and the World of Letters

This event has passed.

Grainger Hall, 4151

Image of an indigenous textile in yellow and red with handprints and dots

2010 Burdick-Vary Symposium:


New World peoples had already invented a huge range of graphic systems when Europeans brought the alphabet to America. Colonial letters interacted with Amerindian pictography, glyphs, cord-writing, and other graphic arts for centuries. This symposium brings together foremost researchers familiar with deeper and more varied meanings of “writing” in the Americas. How did graphic pluralism affect American arts of literacy?


Convener: Frank Salomon

John V. Murra Professor of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison



Susan Friedman
Frank Salomon
Stephen Houston
Christiane Clados
Gary Urton
Elizabeth Boone
John Chuchiak
David Tavarez
Kathryn Burns
Sabine Hyland
Margaret Bender
Carlo Severi
Germaine Warkentin
Nicholas Ostler



Thursday, November 4,  Evening

6:00 Welcome Reception at the University Club


Friday, November 5,  Morning

8:30-9:00. Continental breakfast

9:00 Susan Stanford Friedman, (Virginia Woolf Professor of English and Director, Institute for Research in the Humanities, UW-Madison): Opening remarks

9:15 Frank Salomon (John V. Murra Professor of Anthropology, UW-Madison): “Homage to Cockenoe-de-Long Island”

9:30 Stephen Houston (Brown University, Dupee Family Professor of Social Sciences): “The Living Sign: Maya Hieroglyphs and the Vital Nature of Writing”

10:15-10:30 Coffee break

10:30: Christiane Clados (University of Wisconsin, Visiting Scholar): “New Insights on Nasca Imagery: A Nasca Graphic System?”

11:15 Gary Urton (Harvard University, Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies): “What we (think we) know about how the Inka khipu encoded meaning”

12:00-2:00 Lunch (on your own)


Friday November 5, Afternoon 

2:00 Elizabeth Boone (Tulane University, Martha and Donald Robertson Chair in Latin American Art): “Aztec Pictography in European Frames: The Pictorial Translation of Ideology in Sixteenth-century Mexico.”

2:45 John Chuchiak (Missouri State University, Associate Professor of History): “Caught In between the “Lettered City” and the ‘Glyphic Hinterland’: Indigenous Maya Nobility and Continued Graphic Pluralism in Colonial Yucatan, 1550-1750″

3:30-3:45 Coffee break

3:45 David Tavarez (Vassar College, Associate Professor of Anthropology): “Literate Idolatries: Rethinking Word and Time in Colonial Oaxaca”

4:30-5:00 DISCUSSION


Saturday November 6, Morning

8:30-9:00 Continental breakfast

9:00 Kathryn Burns (University of North Carolina, Associate Professor of History): “Toward understanding the khipu/paper interface: the Andean notaries of Cuzco (ca. 1600).”

9:45 Sabine Hyland (St. Norbert’s College, Associate Professor of Anthropology): “Confessions and Khipu Boards: Diversity in Khipu Evangelization in the Andes”

10:30-10:45  Coffee break

10:45 Margaret Bender (Wake Forest University, Associate Professor of Anthropology.): “Can you hear me now?  Good!  Shifting communicative participant structures reflected in 19th-century Cherokee literacy practices”

11:30-12:00 DISCUSSION

12:00-2:00 Lunch (on your own)


Saturday November 6, Afternoon

2:00 Carlo Severi (Directeur  d’Etudes, Chaire Anthropologie de la Memoire, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris): “Panamanian Kuna picture-writing: interpretation and comparative perspectives”

2:45 James Howe (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Professor of Anthropology): “Kuna scribes and the political uses of literacy in Panama”

3:30-3:45 Coffee break

3:45 Germaine Warkentin (University of Toronto, Professor Emeritus of English): “The Farthest Shore of All: Rethinking the Origins of Writing”

4:30 Nicholas Ostler (Chairman, Foundation for Endangered Languages, UK



The Institute for Research in the Humanities cordially thanks the following for their support: The American Indian Studies Program, the Anonymous Fund, the Center for Early Modern Studies, the Department of Anthropology,  the Department of English, the Department of Linguistics, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the Global Studies Program, the Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies Program, and the Cyril W. Nave Fund.