Leonardo Velloso-Lyons

Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow


Leonardo Velloso-Lyons is a scholar of early modern literatures, working comparatively between sources in Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Quechua, and Italian. He received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Stanford University with a focus on literatures and cultures from the early modern Ibero-Atlantic world. He is particularly interested in the relation between literary, historical, and geographic discourses, the writing of global and local histories, the interaction between cartographic objects and literature, and comparative approaches to early modernity from the fields of Transatlantic, Postcolonial, and Decolonial studies. Leonardo’s research has been supported by the Stanford Humanities Center (2020-21), by the Mabelle McLeod Lewis Fund (2021-22), and by the John Carter Brown Library. A proud interdisciplinary scholar from Brazil, Leonardo holds a B.A. and an M.A. in History from the Federal University of Espirito Santo, Vitoria, Brazil, his alma mater, where he studied from 2007 to 2013.

Research Focus

Specular Histories: Africans, Africa and the Invention of the Hinterlands in the Early Modern Ibero-Atlantic

 At Cornell, Leonardo will be working on his first book, provisionally entitled Specular Histories: Africans, Africa and the Hinterlands in the Early Modern Ibero-Atlantic, which shows how early modern historians from the Ibero-Atlantic used knowledge of African peoples and cultures to create a racialized geographic identity—a single idea of “Africanness.” Written in Ecuador, Cape Verde, Granada (Spain), and Peru, all histories Leonardo examines hold within them the same inherent tension: they promise insights into specific peoples and regions, yet can only offer them by means of frequent comparisons with other sites in the increasingly interconnected world. By using methods from literary studies, history, and intellectual history, Leonardo shows how historians developed an idiosyncratic system of mirrors, in which a newly racialized image of Africans and Africa served to elucidate aspects of other peoples and territories in the Spanish and Portuguese empires, even including peripheral regions of the Iberian Peninsula itself. In Specular Histories, Leonardo argues that the work of historians who sought to curb what they perceived as an undesirable African influence on the Spanish and Portuguese imperial project is also an archive that demonstrates how mutually influential these emergent racialized geographic identities were. “Inventing the hinterlands” is the name given to this process whereby historians attempted to domesticate real uncertainties about unfamiliar regions by collapsing the enormous geographic, ethnic, and cultural diversity of the African into a single identity, to then subsequently flatten other identities as well.