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Scale in the Pre-Columbian Andes

Andrew Hamilton, Harvard University, Junior Fellow 2011/12

While at Dumbarton Oaks, I made great strides on my dissertation, “Scale and the Inca.” I completed a chapter that I had been working on during my last fellowship and then embarked on a subsequent chapter focusing on the Dumbarton Oaks Tunic. My interest lay in the numerous miniature checkerboard tunics woven into its tocapu patterns. I am deeply indebted to Juan Antonio Murro and Gudrun Bühl, who created opportunities for me to examine the tunic firsthand whenever necessary, even pulling it from exhibition. I was able to write much of my chapter seated in the gallery in front of it, which made more sense than writing on the tunic from the distance of the library. These experiences yielded infinitely more insights into this incredible object than I could have ever hoped for, and certainly more than I will ever fit into one dissertation chapter. Additionally, my research benefited enormously and in very unlikely ways from the encouragement and support of the other Pre-Columbian fellows. After thinking about the Dumbarton Oaks Tunic in a very specific mode for the entire semester, I wanted to force myself to consider it from an entirely different angle. Thus, for a farewell party for Joanne Pillsbury, all of the Pre-Columbian fellows got together and re-created the Dumbarton Oaks Tunic out of frosted cookies. The act of creating the tocapus one by one, in buttercream no less, proved pivotal to the way I viewed the designs. When I reexamined the actual tunic the following week, I suddenly noticed a number of anomalies in the motifs—“That’s not how we frosted it!”—that provided crucial pieces of evidence for the narrative of my chapter. I left Dumbarton Oaks with the finished chapter in hand and many fond memories in heart.

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