Digital Decolonizations: Remediating the Popol Wuj

Allison Margaret Bigelow (, University of Virginia, United States of America and Pamela Espinosa de los Monteros (, Ohio State University, United States of America and Will Hansen (, Newberry Library, United States of America and Rafael Alvarado (, University of Virginia, United States of America and Catherine Addington (, University of Virginia, United States of America and Karina Baptista (, University of Virginia, United States of America

The Maya K’iche’ book of creation, known today as the
Popol Wuj (Council Book), challenges some of the foundational categories of literary, historical, and anthropological studies: the stories reflect a decidedly Mayan way of understanding the world and one’s place in it (Lepe Lira 2016, Florescano 2002), but the history of the book cannot be disentangled from Spanish colonial power (Quiroa 2011, 2017) or contemporary national ideologies (González 2014). The
Popol Wuj invites and resists analysis precisely because it defies a series of binary oppositions that underlie received frames of interpretation – indigenous and Spanish, print and image, spoken and written, sacred and secular, literary and theoretical.

Researchers on this panel – graduate students, teaching and research faculty, and librarians – have experimented with different methods of digitizing the
Popol Wuj. In 2007, a collaborative team from Marshall University, the Newberry Library, and the Ohio State University Library created the

first digital facsimile of the
Popol Wuj
so that Mayan people could electronically access the oldest surviving written version of their
tzijs. In 2017,

, which began in a

graduate seminar
at the University of Virginia and continues in development with colleagues in Guatemala and the US, aims to create a thematic resource collection that reveals the story’s multiple layers of meaning and remediation.

Each paper on this panel analyzes some of the diverse intellectual, ethical, and technical challenges and opportunities that we face in trying to represent the graphic, oral, and narrative complexities of the
Popol Wuj. Papers #1-#3 (Espinosa de los Monteros, Hansen, Bigelow and Alvarado) examine issues of access and artifact preservation in digitization, using TEI to mark up non-Western texts, and vexing ethical questions of how DH scholars can tell a story that is not ours. Papers #4 and #5 (Addington and Baptista) present original research on literary genre and colonial encounter that emerged from the digitization projects. Taken together, these five papers suggest how digitization efforts enable new possibilities for humanistic inquiry and dissertation projects in indigenous and Latin American studies. Because these projects are ongoing, we hope that our panel will create a space for brainstorming ideas with colleagues from other fields, universities, and countries. Our panelists are bilingual English/Spanish speakers, and we will present examples in both languages (see sample thematic entries that point to each other en
castellano e

Following Gallon’s (2016) model of a “technology of recovery,” we aim to “bring forth the full humanity of marginalized peoples through the use of digital platforms and tools” in order to address issues of diversity (McPherson 2012) and the question of whether “information can be unfettered” (Earhart 2012). This is an especially complex issue in indigenous studies, where debates about data sovereignty are informed by a history of state-sponsored appropriations of Native knowledges (Gaertner 2017). The intellectual, multilingual, transnational community of scholars at DH 2018 would be an ideal platform to tackle these questions and identify new
puentes in digitizing cultural legacies and acquiring a decolonized consciousness.

Appendix A

  1. Earhart, Amy E. (2012). “‘Can Information Be Unfettered?’ Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon.” In Gold and Klein, eds.
    Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minnesota, pp. 309-318.
  2. Florescano, Enrique. (2002). “Los paradigmas mesoamericanos que unificaron la reconstrucción del pasado: el mito de la creación del cosmos; la fundación del reino maravilloso (Tollán), y Quetzalcóatl, el creador de estados y dinastías.”
    Historia mexicana 52(2): 309-359.
  3. Gaertner, David. (2017). “Why We Need to Talk About Indigenous Literature in the Digital Humanities.”
    Novel Alliances: Allied Perspectives on Art, Literature, and New Media, 20 paragraphs. January 26, 2017. Accessed 20 December 2017. Available at:
  4. Gallon, Kim. (2016). “Making a Case for the Black Digital Humanities.” In Gold and Klein, eds.
    Debates in the Digital Humanities. 2
    nd ed. Minnesota, 15 paragraphs.
  5. González, Ann. (2014). “The
    Popol Vuh for Children: Explicit and Implicit Ideological Agendas.”
    Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 39(2): 216-233.
  6. Lepe Lira, Luz María, ed. (2016).
    Oralidad y escritura: Experiencias desde la literatura indígena. Michoacán.
  7. McPherson, Tara. (2012). “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation.” In Gold and Klein, eds.
    Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minnesota, pp. 139-160.
  8. Quiroa, Néstor. (2017). “Friar Francisco Ximénez and the Popol Vuh: From Religious Treatise to a Digital Sacred Book.”
    Ethnohistory 64(2): 241-270.
  9. —. (2011). “The Popol Vuh and the Dominican Religious Extirpation in Highland Guatemala: Prologues and Annotations of Fr. Francisco Ximénez.”
    The Americas, 67(4): 467-494.

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