José Eusebio Llano Zapata is one of the most representative authors of the Spanish American Enlightenment, yet he is also one of the least known. His invisibility, to be sure, has to do with the almost complete lack of interest by historians in the intellectual history of colonial Latin America. Had he been born in Germany, France, or British America, library shelves would have long been lined with monographs deconstructing his every utterance, for his was a subtle mind. But more important than the biases of historians, his invisibility is the result of having his work buried for centuries in dusty archives. Typical of colonial Spanish American scribal culture, his most important work circulated only in manuscripts.

In Cádiz, Peruvian folklorist Ricardo Palma obtained a copy of the first volume of Llano Zapata’s magnum opus, the Memorias histórico, físicas, crítico, apologéticas, and...

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