Cristóbal de Villalpando’s ‘View of the Plaza Mayor of Mexico City’, 1695

We see an artist attempting to represent the diverse ethnic makeup of the Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain. Introduction In Mexico City’s main plaza, a bustling scene unfolds before our eyes. Horse-drawn carriages carry the city’s elite. Most people are on foot, and some can be seen promenading in a line at the canvas’s bottom[…]

18th-Century Latin American Artistic Pilgrimages to Paris

They followed a similar pattern of studying abroad for a few years and returning home to teach at an academy or establish their own studio. Introduction The allure of Paris has attracted artists from all over the world. In the 19th century, Latin American artists eagerly traveled to this artistic capital, in part because of[…]

Map of Cholula, Mexico, from the Relaciones Geográficas in 1581

The map is organized on a grid—as was the actual city it represents. Introduction In 1581, an Indigenous artist from San Gabriel, Cholula (near the city of Puebla in Mexico, then part of the viceroyalty of New Spain) created an extraordinary map that shows the main buildings and spaces of the city—all centered around the[…]

The Toxcatl Massacre: The Beginning of the End of Aztec Supremacy

These texts excruciatingly detail the human horror and the treachery of a mass murder, now known as the Toxcatl Massacre. Competing Histories This May marks 500 years since the Toxcatl massacre, in which Indigenous people were killed during a festival that took place in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (today’s Mexico City). Two competing histories[…]

‘The Three Greats’ of Mexican Modernism Fought Tyranny with Art

Zapata fought with guns. Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros fought with their own talent – art. It’s such a peaceful image. A woman handing out fruit to a group of young people. But the print is the product of conflict and pain. The bloody, brutal Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) is the theme[…]

Achievements of the Maya, Inca, and Aztec Civilizations

The more we learn about these cultures, the more we appreciate what was special about each of them. Introduction The history of these civilizations stretches from very ancient times to just a few centuries ago. Mayan civilization dates back to 2000 B.C.E. It reached its height in what is called the Classic period, from about[…]

The Ancient Mesoamerican Calendar

Works of Mesoamerican art often include references to calendars and time. Introduction We think of calendars as utilitarian—as tools that we all use every day to organize our time. But calendars also tell us a great deal about how the cultures that produce and use them understand and structure their world. Before Spanish conquerors invaded[…]

‘The History of Mexico’: Diego Rivera’s Murals at the National Palace

In an overwhelming and crowded composition, Rivera represents pivotal scenes from the history of the modern nation-state. How Is History Told? Typically, we think of history as a series of events narrated in chronological order. But what does history look like as a series of images? Mexican artist Diego Rivera responded to this question when[…]

Two Surgeries, 800 Years Apart: Aztec Medical Technology and Today

An archaeologist’s hip surgery prompts him to think of the experience of a Puebloan woman who survived a terrible fall centuries ago. As an archaeologist, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what life was like in the past. I’ve also been injured a time or two, and I’ve wondered if any of my nonfatal[…]

A History of Aztec Civilization

Exploring the Aztecs, a Mesoamerican people who built a vast empire in what is today central Mexico from 1428-1519 CE. Introduction The Aztec Empire flourished from 1428 C.E. until 1519 C.E., when it was destroyed by invaders from Spain. The Aztecs told a legend about the beginnings of their empire. Originally a wandering group of[…]

Representations of Brazil and the Portuguese in 18th-Century Travel Literature

The travel literature, which did not have Brazil as final destination, could have disproportionate and unsuspected repercussions. By Dr. Ângela Maria Vieira DominguesProfessor of HistoryInstituto de Investigação Cientíca TropicalCentro de História de Além-Mar (FCSH/UNL) Abstract As part of a reflection on Atlantic history, I intend to reread the travel literature written by Europeans who stayed[…]

Nature, Politics, and the Story of Mt. Chimborazo in 1802

How a symbolic climb changed two men. This is the story of one of the tallest volcanoes in the world, Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo, and of two extraordinary characters of the 19th century: the German explorer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt and the Venezuelan liberator Simón Bolívar. Both are said to have climbed Chimborazo, although one[…]

Music, Eurocentrism, and Identity: Myth of American ‘Discovery’ in Chile

Traditional narratives of Europe as the center of history and culture and myths of discovery are addressed in Chilean historical musicology. Abstract During the past century, Edmundo O’Gorman, Tzvetan Todorov, Enrique Dussel and other scholars pointed out the Eurocentric perspective implied in traditional narratives about the discovery of America, most of which intended to confirm[…]

Beholding Chicano History: Iconography and the Chicanx Movement

Exploring an allegorical work reminiscent of the style of the Mexican mural movement. The Chicano History mural (Figure 1) is the first chicanx mural produced for a university.1 Chicano History was painted for the University of California Los Angeles Chicano Studies Research Center Library (UCLA-CSRC). At that time, located on the 3rd floor at Campbell[…]

Prints and Printmakers in Colonial New Spain

Religious orthodoxy was critical during this period of the Counter Reformation and was enforced by the Inquisition in Mexico City. Introduction One of the earliest representations of the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe, today patroness of the Americas and an important symbol of Mexican national and religious identity, is an engraving printed in 1608. The engraving[…]

The Inka Paccha: Ceremonial Ritual Watering Device

This was a ritual device intended to promote agricultural fertility. Introduction Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, in his massive colonial treatise The First New Chronicle and Good Government (or El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno), dedicated an entire chapter to the months of the year and the traditional Inka agricultural activities associated with them.[…]

A History of Colonial Brazil

The Portuguese colonization of Brazil was initially quite different from the Spanish conquest of the Americas. Introduction Although news of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas had already spread across Europe, the Portuguese stumbled upon Brazil by accident. In 1498, Vasco da Gama successfully sailed from Portugal around the southern tip of Africa to India,[…]

Remembering the Toxcatl Massacre: The Beginning of the End of Aztec Supremacy

A seminal manuscript tells the Indigenous side of a historic battle. Competing Histories This May marks 500 years since the Toxcatl massacre, in which Indigenous people were killed during a festival that took place in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (today’s Mexico City). Two competing histories of this event exist. In the Spanish telling, the[…]

Impacts of the Spanish Invasion on Pre-Columbian Cultures of the Americas

Impacts of the Spanish invasion on the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas. Spanish Treasure In the age of piracy on the high seas, sailing instructions were top-secret documents upon which rested the security of the king’s fleet and his treasure. Here, Menéndez de Avilés, governor of Florida, gives Don Cristóbal de Eraso complicated and detailed[…]

Feeding the Gods: Human Sacrifice in the Aztec World

Other Mesoamerican cultures also engaged in human sacrifice and built tzompantlis, but the Mexica brought it to an extreme. The priest quickly sliced into the captive’s torso and removed his still-beating heart. That sacrifice, one among thousands performed in the sacred city of Tenochtitlan, would feed the gods and ensure the continued existence of the[…]

Tenochca: A History of Aztec Civilization

Aztec civilization sustained millions of people and developed over thousands of years isolated from European and Asian cultures. Introduction The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican people of central Mexico in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. They were a civilization with a rich cultural heritage whose capital, Tenochtitlan, rivaled the greatest cities of Europe in size[…]

The Keru Vessel: Art and Pottery of the Inka and Colonial Peru

Even with the clash of cultures, the Inka (among other peoples) adapted to the new circumstances, as did the European intruders. Introduction On a vibrantly colored keru cup from colonial Peru, exotically dressed figures, apparently a royal Inka couple, stand surrounded by flowers, vivid designs, and even a rainbow. A keru is a ceremonial Andean beaker[…]

The ‘Doe Shaman’ of Pre-Columbian Costa Rica and Nicaragua

This would have been placed in a grave to embody the shaman’s power that would help the deceased make their safe passage from life to death. From the Physical to Spiritual World (the Shaman) An important visual theme in many ancient American art styles is that of transformation: one thing changing into another. Often the[…]

El Libertador: Simón Bolívar, First President of Colombia

Bolivar has become known as the chief architect of Latin America’s independence. Introduction Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Ponte Palacios y Blanco (July 24, 1783 – December 17, 1830) was a South American independence leader. Credited with leading the fight for independence in what are now the countries of Venezuela, Colombia,[…]

A Brief Overview of the History of Colombia

The Muisca people are considered to have had one of the most developed political systems in South America, after the Incas. Pre-Columbian Era The first humans are believed to have arrived in the area from Central America about 20,000 B.C.E. Circa 10,000 B.C.E., hunter-gatherer societies existed near present-day Bogotá that traded with one another and[…]

The Codices: Insight into Aztec Culture

The tlacuilo (codex painter) tradition endured the transition to colonial culture. Introduction Aztec codices (singular codex) are books written by pre-Columbian and colonial-era Aztecs. These codices provide some of the best primary sources for Aztec culture. The pre-Columbian codices differ from European codices in that they are largely pictorial; they were not meant to symbolize[…]

Thriving in the Valley: A History of Aztec Civilization

Aztec culture had complex mythological and religious traditions. Introduction The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican people of central Mexico in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. They were a civilization with a rich cultural heritage whose capital, Tenochtitlan, rivaled the greatest cities of Europe in size and grandeur. The nucleus of the Aztec Empire was the[…]

Exploring Ten Facts about the Inca

They are remembered for their contributions to religion, architecture, and their famous network of roads through the region. Introduction The Inca civilization (c. 1400-1533 CE) is among the most vital of South America in terms of its cultural influence and legacy. The Inca began as a small tribe who steadily grew in power to conquer[…]

Cozumel and Tulum: The Red Handprints of the Maya

Red handprints can be found on the walls of a number of Maya sites and are associated with the creator god Itzamna. Introduction The Maya sites of San Gervasio (on the island of Cozumel) and Tulum (on the mainland of Mexico in Quintana Roo) are often overlooked for the better-known Chichen Itza or other spectacular[…]