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Volume 52 / Humanities



S.L. CLINE, Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara

IN THE LAST TWO YEARS a number of fine monographs have appeared, dealing mainly with the Nahua and Maya spheres. Of particular note is a work by Louise Burkhart about the dynamics of the spiritual conquest of the Nahuas, particularly as seen through the Nahuatl texts created by the Spanish religious (items bi 89013973, bi 89017002, and bi 91012359). In her book Burkhart has done much to elucidate the Christianity which the natives absorbed, filtered through their own belief system. On the same theme, outright Nahua resistance to Spanish efforts at Christianization is seen in four case studies of Nahua "man-gods" in Serge Gruzinki's monograph (item bi 91013765). Two articles on the confessional as a tool in the Christianization process contribute to the increasingly sophisticated understanding of the Nahua worldview and its colonial transformation. (items bi 90004039 and bi 91013798). The translation of Alfredo López Austin's work on prehispanic Nahua ideology and religious beliefs as they pertain to the human body is a welcome addition to the English-language literature on Nahua beliefs. This work is of particular interest given the shifts in worldview and notion of the person which the Spanish religious were attempting to impose in the early colonial period (item bi 89016998).

Other notable works in the Nahua sphere include Jacqueline Durand-Forest's study of Chimalpahin, the great native annalist whose writings are so valuable for understanding Nahua sociopolitical organization (item bi 89017010). Prehispanic Aztec warfare and politics have received some attention (items bi 89017001, bi 89017005, and bi 90002115), as has the topic of land tenure (items bi 90002113, bi 90008969, and bi 90008978). Also worthy of note is Susan Gillespie's new analytical work on the Aztec kings and the recasting of their histories (item bi 89016999).

In the Maya sphere, two major works on the early colonial period have appeared. Both Grant Jones' (item bi 91013794) and Inga Clendinnen's (item bi 91012386) works deal with Maya resistance to Spanish conquest. Although concerned with slightly different areas, time periods, and emphases, both studies illuminate the encounter between Spaniards and Indians, with particular emphasis on the native viewpoint. In both works, the history of the conquest and its aftermath has advanced considerably from earlier views, which generally focused on the Spanish sphere.

The last two years of publication in Mesoamerican ethnohistory have seen a slowdown in the production of facsimile and critical editions of major texts in the field. This may be a temporary hiatus, as publishers plan on issuing certain texts to coincide with the Columbus Quincentennial. One exception to this general paucity of publication of prehispanic and colonial texts is the facsimile of Bernardino de Sahagún's chronicle of the conquest of Mexico (item bi 91013901).

Since this is my final contribution to the Mesoamerican Ethnohistory section, I would like to take the opportunity to reflect on the the condition of field. The last eight years have seen an explosion in the writing of indigenous history. The native peoples are now much more often the subjects rather than the objects of historical narrative. Their active role in shaping conquest and colonization is now more clearly seen. Only a decade ago it was noteworthy when major monographs on the colonial period relied substantially or solely on native-language materials: this is no longer the case for the Nahua and Maya spheres. Standard divisions in the field are breaking down. From its inception, ethnohistory has been an interdisciplinary field, with active participation from historians, anthropologists, linguists and art historians. However there has been a common categorization that historians and linguists work on the colonial period, while anthropologists and art historians work on the prehispanic. This can no longer be said to hold: historians are venturing into the realm of the pictorial; art historians are examining the alphabetic texts in the colonial codicies; and anthropologists and archaeologists now study the colonial period. All this is profoundly encouraging, and can only contribute to the progress of the field. The number of Mexicans doing high level scholarly work has grown; this speaks well of Mexico's continued interest in the field of ethnohistory as well as of level of training available there. In North America, when this section of the Handbook was created in the early 1960s, there were only a few stalwart ethnohistorians such as Charles Gibson, Donald Roberston, H.B. Nicholson, and my father, Howard Cline. They often felt they were voices crying in the wilderness. I think they would be pleased by the state of our field today.

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