Allison Bigelow

Assistant Professor of Spanish
New Cabell Hall 433
Office Hours:
Tuesday and Thursday 12:30-1:45 and by appt

Research Summary

I study the history of colonial science and technology, primarily vernacular scientific industries like agriculture and mining. I’m especially interested in how a literary approach to texts that fall between the “gap” of history and literature – technical treatises, reformist proposals (memoriales de arbitristas), legal papers (articles of incorporation for mining companies, disputes between indigenous and Spanish miners) – allow us to understand the technical literacies and intellectual agencies of understudied groups, like women and indigenous experts. In one article (EAL 2014), I show how we can use pronominal resilience to determine when women cultivated silkworms in the English colonial sericulture industry; worms grown by men underwent a shift in linguistic gender (he/she) when they reached the third stage of the lifecycle, while worms grown by women were consistently described with grammatically feminine pronouns (she/she). In another article (Ethnohistory 2016), I show how the language of Spanish colonial sources obscures indigenous women’s participation in the Andean mining industry by subordinating ethnic identity (“india”) to civil status (“mujer”).
My book project, Cultural Touchstones: Mining, Refining, and the Languages of Empire in the Early Americas (committed to UNC Press), examines how European and indigenous empires responded to the same metallic materials in different ways. Each chapter focuses on a specific metal – gold, silver, copper, iron – and a discursive question that emerges from writers’ treatment of them: spatial dialectics, translation, form, and genre.
At UVa, I teach graduate courses on colonial science (SPAN 7800) and digital humanities (SPAN 7559), co-taught with Rafael Alvarado. At the undergraduate level, I teach seminars on colonial translations (SPAN 4500), indigenous literatures (SPAN 4500), and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz – both as she represents herself and is represented by artists from Mexico, Spain, Chicana, and “digitally native” communities from the 18th century through the present day. Students in these courses conduct original research that they have the opportunity to publish, sometimes for scholarly audiences like the readers of the Early Americas Digital Archive and sometimes for general audiences like the users of Wikipedia. By translating academic research into public knowledge, we provide an important service to the community; many aspects of indigenous literatures, histories, and cultures are underrepresented in the Spanish-language pages of the world's largest digital encyclopedia.
To learn more about my research and teaching, please consult my C.V.


Ph.D., English, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (2012)

M.A., English, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (2007)

B.A., Spanish, University of Maryland-College Park (2003)

B.A., English, University of Maryland-College Park (2003)


Book project (in progress)

Cultural Touchstones: Mining, Refining, and the Languages of Empire in the Early Americas (committed to the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture for the University of North Carolina Press, as part of the NEH-Institute fellowship at the College of William & Mary)


“La dote natural: género y el lenguaje de la vida cotidiana en la minería andina.” Anuario de estudios bolivianos 22, vol. II (2016): 145-168.

“Women, Men, and the Legal Languages of Mining in the Colonial Andes.” Ethnohistory 63.2 (2016): 351-380. doi 10.1215/00141801-3455347.

“Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge into Extractive Economies: The Science of Colonial Silver.” Journal of Extractive Industries and Society 3.1 (2016): 117-123.

“Conchos, colores y castas de metales: El lenguaje de la ciencia colonial en la región andina.” Umbrales (Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, La Paz, Bolivia) 29 (2016): 15-47.

“Gendered Language and the Science of Colonial Silk.” Early American Literature 49.2 (Summer 2014): 271-325. doi: 10.1353/eal.2014.0024

“Lost in Translation: Knowledge Transfers and Cultural Divergences in Early Modern Spanish and English Silver Treatises.” Moneta, ed. Georges Depeyerot, Catherine Brégianni, and Marina Kovalchuk (Wetteren, Belgium: Agence Nationale de la Recherche-Dépréciation de l’Argent Monétaire et Relations Intérnationales, 2013): 237-260.

“La técnica de la colaboración: redes científicas e intercambios culturales de la minería y metalurgía colonial altoperuana.” Anuario de estudios bolivianos 18 (2012): 53-77.

“Colonial Industry and the Gendered Language of Empire: Silkworks in the Virginia Colony, 1607-1655.” European Empires in the American South, ed. Joseph P. Ward; aft. Kathleen DuVal (Oxford, M.S.: University of Mississippi Press. 13,000 words. In proofs; forthcoming, Fall 2017).

“The Translation of Earthly and Otherworldly Empires: Indigenous Interpreters, Missionary Linguists, and Universal Grammars in the Early Modern Atlantic World.” American Literature and the New Puritan Studies, ed. Bryce Traister (New York: Cambridge University Press). 7,000 words. 346 pp. In production as of 21 October 2016.

“Imperial Projecting in Virginia and Venezuela: Copper, Colonialism, and the Printing of Possibility.” Early American Studies, Special Issue: The Global Turn in Colonial Studies, ed. Mary Eyring, Chris Hodson, and Matthew Mason. 12,000 words. Revised and resubmitted January 2017; forthcoming Fall 2017.

Selected Digital Projects & Student Collaborations

“Recreating the Archive.” Faculty Global Research with Undergraduate Students (Center for Global Inquiry and Innovation).

Podcast: “The Science of Colonial Silver: Rethinking the History of Mining and Metallurgy in the Early Americas.” History Hub: Kingdom, Empire, and Plus Ultra (University College Dublin), 8 August 2016.

Guest editor, Early Americas Digital Archive. Eleven digital critical editions of colonial-era texts translated, transcribed, and annotated by undergraduate and graduate students at UVa and William & Mary.

Wikipedia editor, “Literatura indígena” (SPAN 4500, Spring 2016). Students could choose to write seminar papers (individually) or Wikipedia pages (in groups) about indigenous literatures and cultures. Projects include: deities from Mesoamerica and the Andes; musical traditions of the Suyá people of Brasil; spiritual practices of the Achuar people of Ecuador; Nahua writer Hernando de Alvarado Tezozómoc; León Portilla’s Visión de los vencidos; modern retellings of Guaman Poma.

Mining the Languages of Empire in the Early Americas.” The Appendix 2.1 (2014): 14-21. This quarterly journal encourages interdisciplinary approaches to experimental and narrative histories, especially image-rich, interactive articles that are designed for digital platforms.

Selected Grants & Awards

Faculty Global Undergraduate Research, Center for Global Inquiry & Innovation, UVa, Fall 2016
Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Research Award, University of Virginia, Summer 2016
Huntington Library Fellowship (NEH/OIEAHC), Pasadena, CA, Summer 2016
Faculty Summer Stipend for Research in the Humanities, University of Virginia, Summer 2015
Pablo J. Davis Award for Undergraduate Teaching/Mentoring of Latinx Students, UVa, Spring 2015
Richard E. Greenleaf Fellow, Latin American and Iberian Institute, UNM, Albuquerque, Jan. 2013
Dibner Fellow in the History of Science, Huntington Library, Pasadena, CA, Summer 2012
Mellon Summer Dissertation Fellowship, Institute for the Study of the Americas, UNC, May 2012
Dissertation Fellowship & Summer Research Award, Program in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, UNC, Summer & Fall 2011
Paul W. McQuillen Memorial Fellow, John Carter Brown Library, Providence, RI, Spring 2010
FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Study), Yucatec Maya, US Dept. of State, Summer 2009 & 2011