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W&M professor honored for book on 'Grandeza Mexicana'

  • Jorge Terukina:
    Jorge Terukina:  The associate professor of Hispanic studies at William & Mary was recently honored by the International Institute of Latin American Literature.  Photo by Eric Lusher
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A professor at William & Mary was recently honored for his work by the International Institute of Latin American Literature.

Jorge Terukina, associate professor of Hispanic studies at William & Mary, received an honorable mention from the institute for his book El Imperio de la Virtud: ‘Grandeza Mexicana (1604) de Bernardo de Balbuena y el Discurso Criollo novohispano.

The recognition was part of the institute’s Roggiano Prize for Latin American Literary Criticism, which “recognizes an outstanding scholarly monograph on Latin American Literature and Culture published in Spanish or Portuguese during 2016 and 2017,” according to the newsletter for W&M’s Department of Modern Languages & Literatures.

El Imperio de la Virtud has accompanied me for almost a decade,” said Terukina. “It focuses on a long, 1604 poetic praise of Mexico City, then capital of the viceroyalty of New Spain, titled Grandeza Mexicana.”

The Grandeza Mexicana, written by Castilian-born priest Bernardo de Belbuena, was a proclamation of Mexican pride during its earliest years as a nation.

“As critics adopt this interpretation, it percolates down to textbooks used in general education; the effective corollary of this process is the creation of citizens who believe that ‘Mexico’ understood as a state and ‘Mexican’ as a shared essence existed before the official creation of the state in the 19th century,” said Terukina.

However, as Terukina explains in his book, this standpoint has led to “nation-building interpretations,” using the Grandeza Mexicana as its basis.

“Just like my classes, El imperio de la virtud is an archaeological exercise,” said Terukina. “Rather than taking as a point of departure prior studies that exclusively use present-day theoretical tools and categories, or studies whose premises have been impacted by the nation-building agenda, my book seeks to explore the political value that Grandeza mexicana would have conceivably had in 1604, at a time when Spain-born bureaucrats like Balbuena were competing against New World-born Spaniards for ecclesiastical and political posts, and for the administration of free indigenous labor force.”

This multidimensional analysis of an aged epic such as Grandeza Mexicana is reflective of Terukina’s work in the Hispanic studies department. By analyzing 16th and 17th century texts and artifacts from the Hispanic Atlantic during the early modern period, Terukina and his students take an “archaeological” approach to their studies, using sociopolitical theories, cultural expectations and knowledge-based instruction from those time periods to broaden their understanding.

This approach has led his students through readings from Aristotle and Hippocrates to the study of astrology.

“An ‘archaeological’ approach of this kind seeks to provide students with a set of analytical tools that allow them to uncover the political meaning of cultural artifacts in their original context, while at the same time avoiding the temptation of using present-day categories that will most likely either confirm some insurmountable ‘backwardness’ of said artifacts, or (utilize) them as part of some present-day political agenda,” he said

For Terukina, this recognition is not simply a matter of recognizing his singular efforts, nor does it strictly mean his work is complete.

“This Honorable Mention also helps to shed light on the intense, creative, inspiring work that my colleagues do,” he said. “It rewards their sustained efforts in bringing their research into the classroom and sharing it with students.

“This award also reminds me that, even if you take 15 years to decide what something may mean, such intellectual adventure, which entails questioning the very way you think, is never a futile exercise.”