Nicole D. Legnani

Assistant Professor
Email Address:
Office Location: 
345 East Pyne
Office Hours: 
3:00 pm-4:30 pm

Also by appointment


Ph.D, Hispanic Literatures, Harvard

A.M, Spanish and Renaissance Studies, Yale

A.B., Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard

The research of Nicole D. Legnani (AB Harvard, AM Yale, PhD Harvard) focuses on the intersection between venture capital, the laws of peoples and theology in the conquest of America; she also writes on heresy and apostasy, the poetry of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, monsters and insurgents in the Andes, and the concept of gendered, messianic time in Quechua. Nicole’s interests comprise indigenous and subaltern studies, early modernity, tropology, Marxism and literature, and digital archives. 

She is currently working on two book projects, tentatively titled Trading Fictions: Love, the Law and the Enterprise of the Spanish Conquest of the Americas and Madness and Civilization from Below. By tracing the movement from figure to fiction in discourses of capital and violence,   Trading Fictions intervenes in a long-standing paradigm, in studies of the conquest, which considers juridical categories as the key to reading colonial narratives. Adopting a capital and trope centered, rather than a legal-centered approach, Trading Fictions shows that the scholarly preference for the Sepúlveda-Las Casas polemic and the relaciones genre has circumvented discussion of relevant anxieties about usury, sin and sovereignty in performative texts of profitable violence in the 16th century. Questions on the state of exception, and the qualms surrounding profitable violence, receive preferential treatment in the analysis of texts that include the contracts and theological treatises of the conquest. Her methodology opens a new direction for understanding the contributions of Spain’s imperial enterprises to modernity while underscoring the agency of indigenous peoples in the negotiations with their invaders.

As the title suggests, Madness and Civilization from Below is about madness, insurgency and heresy in the Spanish colonies in the 16th and 17th centuries and it offers an alternate narrative of biopower within and without the European continent. It follows the case of the final, posthumous trial of Fray Francisco de la Cruz (d. 1578), whose political theology would have made Lima, Peru the new See of Catholicism and center of the Spanish Empire. In doing so, Madness and Civilization from Below argues that Cruz reimagined the civilization-barbarism binary while his trials by the Inquisition in Lima evinced a growing schism between heresy and madness, which undid the traditional treatment of heresy as madness.

Nicole D. Legnani 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 and 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. While pursuing her PhD, Nicole became a founding fellow of the Digital ARTs and Humanities (DARTH) at Harvard; as a DARTHist, she consulted on e-books, multi-media and various faculty-led projects. With Sarah W. Searle, she directs the Drawing Conclusions website, an ongoing project that explores alternative forms of academic writing about traumatic events in Colonial Latin America. She has also written and produced Workflows, a video about the women and men behind the Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran project, a digital archive hosted by the Harvard University Library and directed by Afsaneh Najmabadi. Nicole taught at Harvard for two years as a College Fellow before joining the ranks of Princeton faculty as the tenure-track assistant professor of Colonial Latin American Studies in 2016.