Located on Brown University’s Main Green, the independently administered John Carter Brown library features four centuries’ worth of maps and historical documents related to North, Cental, and South America and the Caribbean. Behind the Neoclassical building’s imposing doors lies a historical trove with exhibitions that are open to the public.
The current exhibit is called Paper Worlds of Native Voices, and it’s a fascinating if slightly sinister look at how European colonizers documented indigenous languages from Greenland to Chile and even, in one instance, the Philippines. (Roger Williams may have had benevolent intentions with his guide to the Narragansett language—here shown open to the page where he explains the greeting What Cheer, Netop?—but it’s clear that in many cases the only reason people wanted to learn indigenous languages was to convert the natives to Christianity, a practice that still continues today, though that’s not a subject directly addressed by the exhibit.) Largely handwritten, these documents include phrase books, grammars, and ephemera ranging from a Cherokee songbook to a comic-like bit of scripture. Through February 28.