Pedro Mexía and the Politics of Translation in the Early Modern World

Project Abstract

This project will compare rare, early modern print translations of works by Spanish humanist Pedro Mexía (1497-1551) held in the collection of the Newberry Library in Chicago to determine the extent to which English, French, and Italian translators remained faithful to or altered the original Spanish versions. Mexía’s books show strong ideological leanings since he wrote them with the intention of gaining a career in the service of emperor Charles V (r. 1519-1556). His catholic, pro-imperial stance was often at odds with the political climate of other nations of his time, such as the England of Elizabeth I and James I. As a result, translators of Mexía’s original texts likely would have experienced motivations to alter or omit passages in their translations, potentially deciding to adapt the texts to better align with their own culture and ideologies. To date, however, no scholar has addressed this question. This project will therefore shed light on the politics of translation in the Early Modern Era and lead to a better understanding of a little-studied though significant author in the history of Spanish literature.

During my three-day visit to the Newberry Library, I will compare and transcribe translations of specific passages in two of Mexía’s most significant works, the Silva de varia lección (1540) and the Historia imperial y cesárea (1545). These impressive volumes were written in Spanish, a vernacular language, instead of Latin, the academic language of the time. This allowed the common man to read Mexía’s works, giving him access to the scientific and historical information contained therein for the first time. Consequently, the publications of the Silva and the Historia were followed by immediate, widespread success, made apparent by the large quantity of translations and editions released shortly after the initial publications. Despite this success and impact, however, few modern scholars have investigated Mexía’s works, especially their translations, many of which are only available for consultation in rare book collections like that of the Newberry Library.

By comparing and transcribing overtly ideological passages of Mexía’s works in translation, I will trace any alterations made by translators during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These transcriptions will allow for further research and comparisons of Mexía’s works while hopefully inciting more interest in an important, yet seldom studied, author who left far-reaching effects in the studies of language, historiography, and translation.

Funding Type

Research Grant

Academic College

College of Humanities and Fine Arts


Global Language/Spanish Translation and Interpretation/Nonprofit Leadership Studies


Bachelor of Arts




Robert (Moses) Fritz, PhD

Academic College

College of Humanities and Fine Arts

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