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Jose Cardenas-Bunsen

Associate Professor of Spanish

José Cárdenas Bunsen (Ph.D. Yale University, 2008) specializes in literary, linguistic, cultural and legal contacts in the Transatlantic colonial world and in the Iberian Peninsula.

His research explores the life and writings of marginalized Amerindian and Morisco intellectuals and their integration of political and theological languages, historical disciplines and the arts of their times in creating their arguments and proposals for reform. To expand the range of primary sources and propose new interpretations of texts and other cultural artifacts, Cárdenas’s research agenda relies heavily on original archival work and on the assessment of newly discovered documents through the lenses of their linguistic backgrounds, the tenets of canon and civil law, theology, and also the institutional practices that spring from their Amerindian and Spanish origins.

Professor Cárdenas Bunsen is the author of Escritura y derecho canónico en la obra de fray Bartolomé de las Casas (Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2011), in which he argues that, in response to the papal bull of 1493 that granted jurisdiction over the Americas to the Spanish Crown, Las Casas based his major legal and historical arguments on canon law. Further, that he did so to establish the limits of papal and royal jurisdictions, and to theoretically legitimize the natural-law rights of the Indigenous communities to their lands and dominium. Thus, via canon law and the figure of Voluntary Jurisdiction, the only legitimation for Spanish rule over the lands and peoples of the Americas was the free and voluntary consent of its native populations.

His second monograph —La aparición de los libros plúmbeos y los modos de escribir la historia. De Pedro de Castro al Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2018)— analyzes the correspondence that the bishop of Granada, Pedro de Castro, sustained with Old Christian and Morisco intellectuals for the translation and study of the libros plúmbeos, the “lead books” of Granada’s Sacromonte; these artifacts are a series of circular leaden sheets filled with revelations of religious dogma that radically changed the history of early Iberian Christianity and its relation to Islam. La aparición maintains that the debates that the lead books sparked tested the limits of the scholarly disciplines of antiquarianism, Latin, Arabic and Spanish grammar and its translation, and that the intellectuals involved succeeded in creating a new disciplinary framework to interpret the materiality of the artifacts and their multilingual textual corpus.

In addition, his articles on Guaman Poma de Ayala, Bartolomé de las Casas, Blas Valera and Garcilaso Inca have appeared in Colonial Latin American Review, Inti, Lexis, Hispanic Review, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, and Letras. He also translated the Quechua songs, sermons and prayers that Guaman Poma included in his Nueva Corónica. Among his contributions, Professor Cárdenas has discovered that the mestizo Jesuit Blas Valera may be rightly called the first Amerindian grammarian for his authorship of the Quechua dictionary published anonymously in Lima in 1586. In other studies, Cárdenas has recovered the fragments of the translation of some of Las Casas’ political ideas into Quechua, and he has demonstrated that the sixteenth-century antiquarian Juan de Soria was the author of the thesis that postulates that Spanish, or rather “primitive Castilian,” was one of the languages of Babel, a hypothesis that produced a fierce polemics between contemporary philologists Gregorio López Madera and Bernardo de Aldrete.

Professor Cárdenas Bunsen is currently working a third book manuscript on the ecclesiastical career of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, the creation of his Andalusian and transatlantic network of relationships, and his previously unstudied relationship with his unacknowledged son, Diego de Vargas.