Cogut Institute for the Humanities
Center for the Study of the Early Modern World

2020 Research and Teaching Report: Iris Montero

Iris Montero is currently revising her first book What the Hummingbird Knows, a study of how knowledge about nature is produced as it travels. Taking the case of the hummingbird, an animal endemic to the Americas and therefore absent from the Western historical record before 1492, this study explores the transference of knowledges between indigenous communities in the Americas and communities of naturalists in Europe. Drawing from indigenous material culture and oral and visual histories, the book focuses on the specific forms linguistic and cultural translation give to these registers in early modern genres. Retracing these itineraries of transformation, What the Hummingbird Knows argues for the possibility of putting in dialogue the material, visual and oral evidence produced in the Americas from pre-Columbian times with the textual and experimental record of the Western sciences of animals.

Iris Montero is also starting work on two new projects. The first explores representatios of a powerful concept in the Medieval and early modern worlds: the scala naturae or great chain of being, a hierarchical organization of nature from lesser to higher beings. This project is anchored on the most well known version of the scala by Diego Valadés, a Franciscan inspired by his missionary experience in 16th-century New Spain. The second project looks at antiquarian literatures in the 18th-century Americas from a comparative perspective, and explores the role of antiquities as evidence to answer questions about indigenous populations in an hemispheric scale.

Iris Montero has also taught a course in Hispanic Studies, “Encounters: Latin America in Its Literature and Culture,” which provided an introduction to major authors, movements, and themes of Spanish American literature from the Discovery to the present.