Lecture: A New World Perspective on Global Intellectual and Religious History: Accounting, Confession, and Record Keeping in the Colonial Andes


Location: C103 Hesburgh Center

Gary Urton, Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies, Harvard University

The question at the heart of this presentation concerns a remarkable similarity between accounting systems and bookkeeping technologies in Spain and the Andes prior to the Spanish conquest of the Inka Empire, in 1532. It is argued that in their respective settings, these record keeping systems—both of which were based on the decimal-place-value system of numeration and checks-and-balances accounting—emerged at least partly in relation to an interest in monitoring and rectifying acts deemed to be amoral, unethical, and contrary to the norms and interests of established society and religious traditions. Such actions in European Catholicism were termed pecado, while in the Andes they were known as hucha. This presentation explores the linkages among record keeping, ideas about “sin,” and the practice of confession in Spain and the Andes before and after the Spanish invasion and conquest of the Andes. The material presented sheds light on the technological, epistemological, and social-historical implications of the introduction of the Catholic sacraments (especially confession and penance) and European bookkeeping (especially the double-entry method) into a New World cultural milieu in which indigenous traditions of similar yet distinct religious values and accounting and record-keeping technologies already existed.

Gary Urton is Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies in the archeology department and director of the Khipu Database Project at Harvard University. His research focuses on Peru, Bolivia and Chile, and he has written extensively on Andean and Quechua cultures and Inca civilization, drawing from archeology, ethnohistory and ethnology, ethnoastronomy and cosmology. He has written numerous books, the most recent of which being The Khipus of Laguna de los Cóndores (Forma y Imágen, Lima, 2008). His work Inca Myths (British Museum and University of Texas, 1999) has been translated into French, Spanish, German, Russian, Korean, Polish, Japanese, Chinese and Greek. Urton received his PhD in anthropology from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.