Collecting for a New World

GBP £24.95



ISBN: 978-1-911282-39-6

176 Pages

191 x 229 mm (9 x 7 ½ in)

100 colour illustrations

In association with the Library of Congress, Washington DC

November 2019


A completely new history of pre-and post-Columbian art

“Well put together, a compact, tight design makes it a comfortable read, as well as an informative one. Beneficially, it is illustrated throughout with high quality illustrations…Tick all the right boxes”—Clayton C. Kirking, ARLIS/NA

“An original, extraordinary and impressively informative work of exemplary scholarship and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Aztec/Mayan/Caribbean history collections and supplemental studies reading lists.”—Micah Andrew, Midwest Book Review

“This splendidly produced and illustrated book is much more than merely a collection of photos of 60 notable artefacts.  As well as exploring their history and provenance it gives copious detail on the historical and social environment in which they originated.  I found it fascinating and can wholeheartedly recommend it.”—Richard H Maudslay CBE, Chairman, British Mexican Society, November 2019

“The pivotal moment in the 16th century, when Europeans and indigenous Americans first came into contact, is brought to life with John Hessler’s vivid descriptions of more than 60 rare items, held in the Library of Congress.”—The Art Newspaper, Hot off the Press, November 2019

“Vivid illustrations and interpretive descriptions of more than 60 rare and priceless items.”—Fine Books & Collections

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“When we encounter the precious relics of our deep past we sense that we are entering a quiet room and that we can hear in the voices of writers, artists, potters, and everyday people, just a bit of the truth and a bit of the poetry that makes up all human experience.”—John W. Hessler, in the Conclusion

The history of the early Americas is a story of before and after, defined and divided by a pivotal moment of contact between two distinct cultures. On the European side it is a tale of exploration, high-stakes treasure-seeking, and conquest. For indigenous Americans—including the Maya, the Nahua, the Taíno, and the Wari—it is the beginning of the end, a violent saga of disease, enslavement, and the loss of languages and rituals.

This collision of cultures comes to life in the manuscripts, maps, archaeological objects, and rare books that make up the collection of early American treasures in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Collecting for a New World relates these encounters through vivid illustrations and interpretive descriptions of more than 60 rare and priceless items. In describing for the first time the journeys of the objects themselves—via African shipwrecks, secret meetings on airstrips, discoveries in castle libraries, and journeys into unknown archaeological sites hidden deep in the jungles of Guatemala— author John Hessler reveals the role played by private collectors, whose knowledge, vision, and—in many cases, philanthropy— contribute so significantly to the collective understanding and interpretation of history and culture.

About the Author

When not searching through Maya ruins in Central America, climbing in the Alps or mountain biking through some jungle, John Hessler is the Curator of the Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Archaeology and History of the Early Americas at the Library of Congress and a Lecturer in Quantum Materials, Mechanics and Computing, in the Graduate School of Advanced Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Founder of the Archeo/LAB, his current teaching and research focuses on the theoretical materials science of archaeological remains, the topological structure of ancient DNA, and the quantum properties of ancient nano-materials like Maya Blue. A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in London, he is the co-director of the Mesoamerican Language, Theory and Decipherment Seminars, and is also on the faculty of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia where he teaches a seminar called the History & Construction of the Mesoamerican Codex. The author of more than 100 books and articles, including MAP: Exploring the World, his research and writing has been featured in many national media outlets including Discover, Wired, CBS News, The New York Times, The Washington Post and most recently on NPRs All Things Considered.

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
  2. Collecting History / History of Collecting
    1. Before Columbus: Art and Writing in the Ancient Americas
    2. Writing and the Codex in the Pre-Columbian Americas
    3. Art and Archaeology: A Selection of Objects from the Jay I. Kislak Collection
  3. After Contact: European Reactions to a New World, 1492–1650
    1. Printing Comes to the Americas
    2. Columbus’s Book of Privileges
    3. Martin Waldseemüller’s Vision of the New World
    4. Pizarro and Spanish Expansion South
    5. Bartolomé de las Casas and Human Rights in America
    6. Ethnography, Natural History, and the Beginnings of Archaeology in the New World
  4. Conclusion: The Collecting Continues
  5. Appendices
    Letter of Seymour de Ricci
    Translation of Papal Bull
  6. Suggested Reading
  7. Index