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Dr Lexie Cook

Assistant Professor

Assistant Professor in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures
Departmental Rep (MLAC) in the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies


I am a specialist in the written and visual culture of the Iberian Atlantic, with a focus on the early archives of Portuguese imperialism and commerce in West Africa.

My current research is focused on the idioms of artifice – artifice understood as ingenuity and craft, as well as fiction, falsification, and deception – that emerged at the intersections of West African and Iberian language-worlds in spaces marked by asymmetrical exchange, disputes over the boundaries between sacred and commercial spheres, troubled translation, coercion, violence, but not conquest.

This research has taken shape in two different projects. 

My first book project––Before the Fetish: Artifice and Trade in Precolonial West Africa––is a study of the origination of the idea of “the fetish” in the archives of the creole trading enclaves of precolonial West Africa. Through a literary analysis of a multilingual archive of Portuguese, Spanish, Cape-Verdean and French chronicles, merchant accounts, missionary letters and Inquisition trials, the book traces the Atlantic-African itineraries of a Portuguese discourse and imaginary of feitiçaria, understood as a set of magical techniques. It is the first study to assemble and theorize a corpus of the original forms described as feitiços, hechizos, fetissos, fetiches, and fetishes – etymological and material precursors to what later came to be known in ethnographic discourse as fetish-objects –, ranging from instruments of trade (like the Akan gold-weights) to the Afro-Atlantic amulets known as bolsas de mandinga and even counterfeit and stolen relics. The book is structured around different techniques of “fetish”-making – writing, metallurgy, ligature, and gleaning – as well as their social importance and perceived effects. I argue that the forms that elicited the accusation of feitiços––far from an expression of traditional, “pre-contact” African religious culture––were devised in response to new and varied pressures of the dynamic, and often violent, trading contexts of early Atlantic Africa.

 My second project – The Mandinga Experience: Illusion and Proof in the Early Portuguese Atlantic – has begun as a focused study of the 1690 Lisbon Inquisition case of a Cape-Verdean miracle-worker and illusionist Patrício de Andrade, denounced for putting on “experiências” (that is, demonstrations) of bodily invulnerability that were so convincing, that no one could believe he had not made a pact with the devil. Building on this case, the larger project reconstructs and interprets the theatrical repertoire, meanings of experience, and notions of proof put forward by a set of African illusionists from across the Portuguese Atlantic, known collectively as the mandingueiros, as they faced the Inquisition.

I also work on tangomãos, island-books, and buried treasure.I hold degrees in Comparative Literature and Iberian Cultural Studies and am trained in Art History as well as West African languages and aesthetic traditions.