9690 - Precursor of anthropology: Matthäus Steffel and his Tarahumarisches Wörterbuch

The exploration and further study of the languages and culture of the indigenous peoples in New Spain had been occupying the European colonizers from the 16th century onwards. One though shouldn´t restrict this endeavor solely to the Spanish empire. Travelers and missionaries from other European countries also took their part and strongly participated in fathoming the other.

In 1809, in the city of Halle, Prusia, Matthäus Steffel's "Tarahumarisches Wörterbuch", a German-Tarahumara dictionary, would be published as part of a compilation of German missionary writing entitled Nachrichten von verschiedenen Länder des spanischen Amerikas. Steffel, a Jesuit who had lived for several years as a missionary among the Tarahumara people in today's Chihuahua, Mexico, here not only presented a great amount of vocabulary as translated into German, but further complemented his work by including varius comments and deteiled prescriptions of the customs and rites of these people from the northern part of New Spain.

The presentation focuses on Matthäus Steffel's account taking into consideration therein reflected ideas and conceptions of the "primitive" other prevailing since the age of Enlightenment as part of a growing occupation with the definition of culture and civilization and its demarcation in an increasingly global context.

Keywords: Matthäus, Steffel, New Spain, Tarahumara, Dictionary

Author: genannt Jost, Diana Brenscheidt (Universidad de Sonora, Mexico / Mexiko)


University of Vienna | Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43 1 4277 17575