Misplaced Objects: Migrating Collections and Recollections in Europe and the Americas

Book Award Author
Silvia Spitta
Book Award Year

Silvia Spitta, Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College, is the recipient of the 2010 IHR Book Award for "Misplaced Objects: Migrating Collections and Recollections in Europe and the Americas" (The University of Texas Press, 2009).

“When things move, things change.” Starting from this deceptively simple premise, Silvia Spitta opens a fascinating window onto the profound displacements and transformations that have occurred over the six centuries since material objects and human subjects began circulating between Europe and the Americas. This extended reflection on the dynamics of misplacement starts with the European practice of collecting objects from the Americas into Wunderkammern, literally “cabinets of wonders.”

Stripped of all identifying contexts, these exuberant collections, including the famous Real Gabinete de Historia Natural de Madrid, upset European certainties, forcing a reorganization of knowledge that gave rise to scientific inquiry and to the epistemological shift we call modernity. In contrast, cults such as that of the Virgin of Guadalupe arose out of the reverse migration from Europe to the Americas. The ultimate marker of mestizo identity in Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe is now fast crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and miracles are increasingly being reported. "Misplaced Objects" then concludes with the more intimate and familial collections and recollections of Cuban and Mexican American artists and writers that are contributing to the Latinization of the United States. Beautifully illustrated and radically interdisciplinary, "Misplaced Objects" clearly demonstrates that it is not the awed viewer, but rather the misplaced object itself that unsettles our certainties, allowing new meanings to emerge.