what I’m reading these days

Now that the semester is back in full swing, my reading habits are again drawn to fulfillment of teaching responsibilities, but not entirely. Right now I have a handful of books underway- some for my classes and others not. So, here’s what I’m reading these days:

Matthew Restall, Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. This is the first book we’ll be discussing in my seminar on the Spanish Conquest and is, I think, required reading for anyone interested in the subject. The book is particularly effective at dissembling notions of European superiority, in their many guises, by demonstrating the centrality of indigenous people themselves in the process of Conquest. We’re using it first in order to play off the many representations of the Conquest that emerged right from the beginning, as European participants sought to frame and legitimate their own actions.

Georg Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge. Also a class text, but for my Honors Research Methods course. Not sure yet how much I actually like it, or how useful it will actually be. I was looking for a single book that would give the quick and dirty overview of shifts in modern historiography, and this seemed like it would do the job. But, as one might expect, I find his prose a little too…. german.

Yanna Yannakakis, The Art of Being In-Between: Native Intermediaries, Indian Identity, and Local Rule in Colonial Oaxaca, I picked this one up at the AHA after skimming it from our library collection, and I’m very excited about it. Yannakakis, who is newly at Emory after starting her career at Montana State, provides an excellent analysis of the role of native intermediaries who were, from the opening moments of conquest (see above) integral to the success and stability of the society Spain forged in the Indies. Native intermediaries between the Spanish and indigenous worlds quickly learned the rules of the game and worked them to protect their own, and often their community’s interests in the face of Spanish colonialism. And since the Spanish were so dependent on communication as filtered by through their intermediaries to grease the works of colonialism, the class of educated indian nobles (and non-nobles, in the form of yanaconas in the Andes, for example) were very consequential for the process of empire building.

Chris McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superatheletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen. Ok, I’ll admit that I’m reading this book right now because of my interest in barefoot running, and because a number of friends have recommended it. But, I find it’s pop anthropology to be maddening as it trades in tropes of noble savagery and Indian exoticism. The dude is simply a bad writer on top of that, which is frustrating for anyone with an interest in Latin America, indigenous issues, and, well, serious  non-fiction writing. But, hey, it appeals to my suppressed athelete.

I’m about to start Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Don’t ask me why, because I’m not exactly sure other than the fact that I have a copy of it. I mean, it’s my impression that people read Vonnegut either in high school or early in college and find him interesting simply as a function of cognitive and social development. I’m hoping I’ll be disabused of that impression, but only time will tell.

And, finally, I’m also reading Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, which I like for the sparseness of the prose. “Who shot him? Someone with a gun.” The continental op is a modern-day western-er, and Hammett’s turns of phrase are powerful in their simplicity, their straightforwardness, their economy.

Anyway, as I get through these and add others I’ll offer my assessments. I’d also love to hear what you’re reading these days, as the commute offers ample time for textual engagement.


Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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Posted in Books, Miscellaneous
2 comments on “what I’m reading these days
  1. Andy says:

    Strange. I had just finished reading this when NPR announced an upcoming story on the benefits of barefoot running. Anyways, thanks for the heads up on the Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. I’m teaching an Inca Archaeology class in the Fall and would love something new to end our discussion with. I look forward to checking it out.

  2. […] amidst all of this I’m also still working through a few of the books I mentioned in my last post on the subject. Too much to read, and too little time to do […]

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Chad Black

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