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“Orpheus Crosses the Atlantic: Native Americans Writing Latin in the Colonial Period”

Craig Williams (Illinois)

Friday, November 13, 2015 - 3:30pm
Smith 102

What kinds of things can happen when indigenous people of North America in
the first phases of contact with the settler-colonists not only learn to
read the prestige language of European learning, but write texts in Latin
addressed to Europeans and Euro-Americans? After briefly surveying the
surviving examples of Native-authored Latin texts from the colonial period,
I look closely at a Latin letter written by Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a young
Wampanoag man who graduated from Harvard College in 1665. Taking my cue from
Cheeshahteaumauk’s opening reference to Orpheus, I read his letter as a
creative and strategic response to a new “antiquity” freshly encountered.

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