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OVERFLOW: Symposium—Khipus: Writing Histories In and From Knots

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Bard Graduate Center

38 West 86th Street

New York, NY 10024

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There has been much concern and criticism in the West over the absence of the voices of “peoples without history” in the writing of local, regional and global histories. This concern has been especially profound insofar as it pertains to societies that did not have in the past, or that do not have today, their own traditions of written history. The Inkas of the Pre-Columbian Andes represent a striking case study in this regard, because, while Inka administrators had the use of an exceptionally complex and highly efficient instrument for record keeping, in the knotted-string khipu(or quipu, “knot”), we have not to date been able to draw historical information from these knotted records for writing a history of the Inka Empire. Gary Urton’s recently published book, Inka History in Knots: Reading Khipus as Primary Sources (Univ. of Texas Press, 2017), lays out a methodology for approaching khipu accounts as sources for writing Annales-style histories of the Inka state—i.e., histories based on administrative data, such as censuses, tribute records, storehouse accounts, etc. This symposium brings together eight Andean scholars to discuss and debate the question of whether or not, and if so how, we might draw on knotted cord accounts from the pre-Inka Wari, the Inka empire, and those from Andean subjects of the Spanish Colonial state in order to begin to understand how Andean peoples constructed representations of their own societies. The principal challenges will be, first, to identify the structures, physical features, organizational principles and semiotic properties of cord accounts in these different periods in the Andean past, and second, to determine how we might draw on these constructions to begin to write histories of Andean societies based on Andean sources.


Khipu RN9027, from the Casa del Kipu deposit at Pachacamac; courtesy of Denise Pozzi-Escot, director, Pachacamac site museum; photograph by Rommel Angeles.

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Bard Graduate Center

38 West 86th Street

New York, NY 10024

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