They were the healers, teachers, and writers, the "wise ones" of Nahuatl-speaking cultures in Mexico, remembered in painted codices and early colonial manuscripts of Mesoamerica as the guardians of
knowledge. Yet they very often seem bound to an unrecoverable past, as stereotypes prevent some from linking the words "indigenous" and "intellectual" together.
This study is important, a must-read, for anyone working in indigenous literatures of Mexico. It serves as a contribution to the overall Mexican narrative of nation, showing indigenous intellectuals as agents on behalf of themselves and their communities. In a broader context, it is a significant work for Native/indigenous studies hemispherically and globally.
—Ines Hernandez-Avila, author of Reading Native Women: Critical/Creative Representations
Not so, according to author
Kelly S. McDonough, at least not for native speakers of Nahuatl, one of the most widely spoken and best-documented indigenous languages of the Americas. This book focuses on how Nahuas have been
deeply engaged with the written word ever since the introduction of the Roman alphabet in the early sixteenth century. Dipping into distinct time periods of the past five hundred years, this broad
perspective allows McDonough to show the heterogeneity of Nahua knowledge and writing as Nahuas took up the pen as agents of their own discourses and agendas.
McDonough worked collaboratively
with contemporary Nahua researchers and students, reconnecting the theorization of a population with the population itself. The Learned Ones describes the experience of reading historic text with
native speakers today, some encountering Nahua intellectuals and their writing for the very first time. It intertwines the written word with oral traditions and embodied knowledge, aiming to retie
the strand of alphabetic writing to the dynamic trajectory of Nahua intellectual work.