Latin American Indigenous* Languages in Early Printed Books

Hosted by the British Library

Closed for applications

This fellowship is based within the British Library’s European & Americas Collections. The British Library cares for an unparalleled collection of early printed books from Latin America, which is particularly rich in religious books ranging from missionary to educational material and matters of religious doctrine. Many of these books contain substantial parts written in indigenous languages, some more widely spoken such as Nahuatl, Quechua and Aymara, others lesser-used regional languages such as Zapotek or Ótomi.

Project Scope

A preliminary catalogue published with Brill (1999) lists over 400 books (of which around 350 from Mexico and 60 from Lima). The Library has identified over ten indigenous languages from titles alone. From the current catalogue records it is unclear, however, how much and which type of material is contained in each of the different languages.

The Chevening Fellow will help to address this situation by researching the collections with an eye to complementing the list with printed materials after 1800. Identifying and enhancing the metadata of printed materials in indigenous languages will improve existing records and make them more widely accessible.

This fellowship has potential to enhance the catalogues in a collection area of outstanding quality, which is undoubtedly very relevant both to current research and to communities in Latin America and the diaspora. The fellowship will also help to enhance their use by promoting them among a wider audience.

Most of the early printed books from Latin America in the Library’s collection were bought in the nineteenth century at major auction sales in Europe, notably those of José María Andrade, Father Agustín Fischer (both 1869) and José Fernando Ramírez. The fellowship is a welcome opportunity to enrich our understanding of their history and to engage people in a creative and critical way.  Acknowledging the importance and critical potential these books have for the descendants of indigenous communities, the Chevening Fellow can become an ambassador for linguistic diversity in their home country and a link to increase our engagement in the region.

Key Responsibilities

  • Identify and research the British Library holdings in indigenous languages from Latin America (1543/44- c. 1800), departing from a preliminary catalogue of just over 400 works (Brill 1999 at and extending beyond as far as possible
  • Identify key people who are engaged in research and work within indigenous communities and beyond
  • Help our curatorial team to research the history of early printed Latin American books at the British Library
  • Help our curatorial team to strengthen our social media profile in Latin America


  • A detailed spreadsheet of printed books written partly or entirely in an indigenous language with correct bibliographic data and improved metadata (particularly language identification) to enhance existing catalogue records
  • A list with key people engaged in research, arts, education or other work relating to indigenous peoples and their cultures
  • Contribution to the development of metadata best practice guidelines for printed materials in indigenous languages
  • Contribution to engagement with the Latin American collections in indigenous languages through social media (blogs and tweets) and online events, for example an online workshop to critically engage with the history of the collection at the British Library

Candidate requirements

  • Be a citizen of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, or Mexico and currently in country.
  • Degree or professional experience in a subject relevant to the Library’s Latin American indigenous language collections
  • Interest in the linguistic diversity of Latin America and its sociocultural implications; preferably some knowledge of an indigenous language relevant to the project
  • Experience in a library or archive, academic or other relevant environment
  • Good working knowledge of written English, and a commitment to improve spoken English during the fellowship
  • Good communicator with some experience of using social media and/or writing for online audiences
  • Interest in using curatorial and cataloguing work to disseminate knowledge to key stakeholders in indigenous languages and cultures

* We are mindful that ‘indigenous’ here refers to the languages of many different peoples descended from pre-Hispanic settlers in Latin America.

Applications are closed

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