Nicole D. Legnani

Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese
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345 East Pyne
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Nicole D. Legnani (AB Harvard, AM Yale, PhD Harvard) was born and raised in New York City, but has spent most of her adult life between Peru and New England. While at Harvard, she did her junior year abroad at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú where she studied Quechua and Andean linguistics and archaeology. She did research on second-language Quechua and Aymara acquisition in urban contexts for the Ministry of Education of Peru in 2001. In 2003 she graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in Latin American Studies. In 2005 the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and Harvard University Press published a revised version of her undergraduate thesis (Titu Cusi: An Inca Narrative of the Conquest). In 2007 she returned to Harvard, where she earned her PhD in 2014. She taught at Harvard for two years as a College Fellow before joining the ranks of Princeton faculty on the tenure-track in 2016.

With The Business of Conquest: Empire, Love, and Law in the Atlantic World (University of Notre Dame Press, 2020), Legnani demonstrates how the financing and partnerships behind early expeditions betray their own praxis of imperial power as a business, even as the Laws of the Indies were being written. She interrogates how and why apologists of Spanish Christian empire, such as José de Acosta, found themselves justifying the Spanish conquest as little more than a joint venture between the crown and church that relied on violent actors in pursuit of material profits, but which nonetheless served to propagate Christianity in overseas territories. Focusing on cultural and economic factors at play, and examining not only the chroniclers of the era, but also laws, contracts, theological treatises, histories, and chivalric fiction, Legnani traces the relationship between capital investment, monarchical power, and imperial scalability in the Conquest. In particular, she shows how the Christian virtue of caritas (love and charity of neighbor, and thus God) became confused with cupiditas (greed and lust), since love came to be understood as a form of wealth in the partnership between the crown and the church. In this partnership, the work of the conquistador became, ultimately, that of a traveling business agent for the Spanish empire whose excedent from one venture capitalized the next. This business was thus the business of conquest, and featured entrepreneurial violence as its norm—not exception.

Her second book project, tentatively titled Resistance, Heresy and Insurgency in 1560s Peru: The Dispossessed (under contract), contends that various forms of resistance were deployed by subjects of diverse ethnicities and social stations against dispossession that was practiced materially but also spiritually in the new viceroyalty. Their bodies, at times willingly, though often not, became sites of possession for other voices, which sought and performed remedies, enacted political change, and reversed expropriation through immanent praxis. The bodies and voices that inhabit this second monograph include Spanish and Indigenous, Creole and Black human subjects, but also angels, demons, and huacas, the beings who animate the Andean landscape. The book focuses on two cases from the 1560s, one from the Inquisition in Lima and the other from extirpations of idolatry in the area of Ayacucho and Cuzco. In both cases, ‘the possessed,’ who were interpellated as heretics, apostates, madmen or rebels, by colonial institutions, were offering their bodies as vessels for incorporeal beings to speak. In her readings both along and against the grain of this colonial archive, Legnani privileges the voices of subalterns, often of women, in order to map inter-ethnic alliances that attempted to resist domination.

She also writes about the lyric of Juana Inés de la Cruz, and the epic poetry by Alonso de Ercilla and Pedro de Oña.


  • Ph.D. in Hispanic Literatures from Harvard University
  • A.M. in Spanish and Renaissance Studies from Yale University
  • A.B. in Romance Languages and Literatures from Harvard University

Selected Publications


  • The Business of Conquest: Empire, Love, and Law in the Atlantic World. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2020.
  • Titu Cusi: A 16th-century Account of the Conquest. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Peer-reviewed articles and book chapters

  • “Defending the Indefensible: Las Casas and the Exceptions to Sovereignty.” In The Routledge Hispanic Studies Companion to Colonial Latin American and Caribbean Studies (1492-1898). Eds. Santa Arias and Yolanda María Martínez-San Miguel. London; New York: Routledge, 2020, pp. 406-418.
  • “Domestic Bliss and Strife: Fresia and Caupolicán in Ercilla’s Araucana and Oña’s Arauco domado.” Essays on Studies on Early Modern Iberian Epic and Heroic Poetry. Ed. Emiro Martínez-Osorio. University of Toronto Press, forthcoming spring 2021.
  • “Invasive Specie: Rabbits, Conquistadors, and Capital in the Historia de las Indias (1527–1561) by Bartolomé de Las Casas (1484–1566).” In Latin American Culture and the Limits of the Human. Eds. Lucy Bollington and Paul Merchant. Gainesville, FL: UP of Florida, 2020, pp. 127-49.
  • "Penelope and the Minyades: Mythologemes and a Rhizome for Women's Text(Ile)s as Women's Work in the Lyric Voice of Juana Inés De La Cruz." Romance Notes, vol. 58, no. 2, 2018, pp. 241-249.
  • "Finger-Pointing (Painting) in Neuter: The Deixis of Portraiture in the Third-Person Lyric of Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz." Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, vol. 94, no. 9, 2017, pp. 951-969.
  • With Luis Cárcamo-Huechante. "Voicing Differences: Indigenous and Urban Radio in Argentina, Chile, and Nigeria." New Directions for Youth Development, vol. 2010, no. 125, 2010, pp. 33-47.