Zanna Van Loon

Zanna Van Loon (°1992) studied history at KU Leuven. She graduated with a Master's thesis on the international trade of Christopher Plantin with Scottish and English clients (1555-1589). She is currently preparing a doctoral dissertation at KU Leuven under the supervision of Werner Thomas, Toon Van Hal, and Lieve Behiels as part of the project presented here. As a part of the interdisciplinary project “Evolving views on world's languages in a globalizing world (1540-1840)”, she aims to analyze the production, diffusion and consumption of knowledge of Native-American languages, presented by European missionaries, merchants and travellers in grammars, dictionaries and other language descriptions (16th-18th century), in its historical (institutional and socio-cultural) context. Not long after the conquest of the Americas, European missionary orders such as the Franciscans and Jesuits traveled to the recently discovered continent with the aim to evangelize the indigenous populations. They soon realized that their missionary activities could be carried out more efficiently if they spread the word in American languages, rather than imposing their own languages on the native populations. Missionaries were thus eager to speak these languages fluently and to pass on the gained knowledge to their successors. To this end language descriptions, such as grammars and vocabularies, were produced both in manuscript and printed form. In addition to the missionaries’ efforts, a large number of travelers, merchants and explorers had published language descriptions or specimens in ethno-historical accounts documenting the Early Modern encounter with “unknown” populations and cultures. Therefore it is important to keep in mind that these texts were composed by various groups of people pushed by various incentives in different regions and that the colonization of the Americas was set up by different European powers (The Spanish empire, Portugal, England and France). This research has the objective to be the first study so far documenting the overall production, diffusion and consumption of Early Modern accounts in or about native American languages in Europe and the Americas. A comparative approach is adopted which combines a thorough network analysis with provenance research, a closer reading of the sources and an analysis of the materiality of the book, to help understand the processes of publication, existing networks and the specific use of these documents.


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