Translating Pictures: Early Modern Cultural Exchange
General Catalog Course Title:
Freshman Seminars
Terms Offered:
Spring 2014

 Pictures are often taken to be a universal language available to diverse linguistic communities. We assume that two stick figures painted on a sheet of metal warns drivers, regardless of their cultural knowledge or language, that a school is nearby. However, such “reading” of pictures is based on learning a visual language and its conventions. Assuming that pictures are universal signs can lead to mistranslations and the production of new meanings. This seminar will examine the transmission and exchange of pictures during a major period of cultural convergence, European intervention in the Americas and Asia during the sixteenth century. The French, Dutch and English who interacted with non-European peoples made assumptions about the universality of visual communication and left pictorial records in prints. The Spanish who conquered Mexico encountered complex societies with sophisticated pictorial traditions. The survival of the glyphic traditions in copies of Mexican codices and post-Conquest documents entailed the (mis)translation and convergence of European and indigenous pictorial conventions. Participants in the seminar will work with materials in the collection of the Bancroft Library. Several seminar meetings will take place in the Bancroft Library, where we will discuss readings and examine materials in the collection. Each member will select an illustrated book or other object, such as a map or a print, in consultation with the instructor, conduct research and present a short, exploratory final paper to the group. The group will pool together their diverse linguistic and visual capacities.

For more detailed information about classes, please visit the UC Berkeley Online Schedule of Classes.