Gold: A Problematic Standard

in New World Gold

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780226856186
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226856193 | DOI:
Gold: A Problematic Standard

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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This chapter examines the practices and discourses of value generated by the quest for gold. It discusses the organization of ethnographic discourse in relation to the Canary Islands and the Caribbean, considers the debates about dominium, looks at the organization of value across colonial frontiers, and describes the development of the quest for gold. The chapter argues that, although conquistadors and settlers experienced gold as a problematic standard, colonial writing reasserts its goodness by exaggerating the difference between the civilized man and the barbarian in terms of the absence of money, property, and writing. While gold was valued by both Spaniards and Amerindians as the symbol of divinity and power, the former believe that gold subordinates the aesthetic and the ethic to the monetary. The discursive complicities organized by gold are exemplified by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, who connects gold with navigation, hygiene, sexuality, and commerce.

Keywords: gold; value; Canary Islands; Caribbean; dominium; Spaniards; Amerindians; Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo; money; commerce

Chapter.  17329 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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