What new insights can digital text analysis and visualization methods help us derive from historical texts? How can we apply digital text analysis approaches to problematic colonial texts in a way that reveals rather than reinforces the power and prejudices embedded within them?
I will explain how I answer these questions in my study of historical texts from colonial Latin America (especially from Peru and the Andes). With the help of the Neukom CompX fellowship, I have recently completed a preliminary digital "database" or corpus of texts: the Early Colonial Andes (ECA) corpus. Throughout the colonial period, Spanish colonial officials created a vast "database" of their colonial territories and their peoples. However, new methods now allow us to query this textual database in more systematic ways while, at the same time, new approaches challenge us to confront the power imbalances encoded in these texts. I propose that if we can visualize and map patterns long embedded in colonial texts, we can better interrogate the way historical power relations have shaped the most well-known historical narratives and discourses.
I will begin by discussing how I created the ECA corpus using a series of semi-automated methods. Then, I will share some preliminary analyses of the corpus and discuss the potential benefits such a corpus offers to not only my fellow scholars but also to the students and citizens of Andean countries like Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Creating an online database that is searchable by place, for example, will offer rural Andean communities the chance to review and Andean students the opportunity to study these documents for the first time.