Workshop in the  History of  Material Texts
HMT About Search Events Impact

Welcome to the website for the University of Pennsylvania's Workshop in the History of Material Texts! Here you can find announcements about upcoming events as well as a searchable database of seminars we have held since the fall of 1996.


On Monday, November 18th we will be welcoming Nancy Farriss (Penn) for a talk entitled "From Hieroglyphs to Alphabet: Christianity and Writing in Sixteenth-Century Mexico." Nancy's talk will explore a significant product of European colonization in the Americas:

Within the space of a few decades during the sixteenth century, the Roman alphabet replaced the ancient glyphic writing systems that the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America had employed for a millennium or more. An artifact of Christian evangelization, requiring the combined efforts of Spanish friars and native intellectuals, the new technology enabled the production of catechisms, grammars, dictionaries, and other proselytizing tools in the local languages. At the same time, the alphabetic script became a vehicle for recording and preserving local knowledge, including traditional religious beliefs and practices that the missionaries sought to eradicate.

Nancy Farriss is Annenberg Professor of History, Emerita, at the University of Pennsylvania. She has dedicated over half a century to research and writing on the colonial history of Mesoamerica, with emphasis on indigenous groups in southern Mexico. Her most recent publication is Tongues of Fire: Language and Evangelization in Colonial Mexico (Oxford University Press, 2018). Her current project is the history of sacred objects in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she lives part time.


See our events page for the full schedule for this academic year. We hope to see you at the seminar!