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Volume 54 / Humanities



ROBERT HASKETT, Associate Professor of History, University of Oregon
STEPHANIE WOOD, Assistant Professor of History, University of Oregon

AS WE TOOK UP THE TASK of evaluating recent works in Mesoamerican ethnohistory, it soon became clear that our predecessor's prognostication was correct: the quality and quantity of serious scholarship has indeed grown exponentially. Some of this can probably be attributed to the interest created by the 500th anniversary of the first Columbus voyage. Few of the works described here consciously invoke that event, or the celebrations and condemnations connected with its commemoration. Yet surely heightened awareness of cultural contact, conflict, change, and modification invoked by the Quincentenary is at least partly responsible for the quickened production of thoughtful documentary analyses (items bi 94005383 and bi 91026424), the publication, transcription, translation, and interpretation of a rich body of codices and colonial-era indigenous language documents (items bi 94005072, bi 93012674, bi 93002214, bi 92000946, bi 93012671, bi 93001981, and bi 93001969), and the new readings of such durable sources as Sahagún's multifaceted work (items bi 94005070 and bi 93001945).

The cultures of the Maya and the Nahuas (most prominently the Mexica, still often referred to as the Aztecs) before, during, and after the Iberian invasion have continued to receive the lion's share of scholarly attention. New levels of sophistication have been reached for the Nahua in the interpretation of ritual, religious ideology, and the historical and political implications of so-called "mythic" versions of the past, above all in the work of Inga Clendinnen (item bi 93001953), Miguel León-Portilla (item bi 93002007), and the collection of essays in editor Davíd Carrasco's To change place (item bi 93001939). For the Maya, Linda Schele's and David Freidel's outstanding book, A forest of kings (item bi 93001954), is a beautifully realized example of innovative sociocultural interpretation based on a rich mix of archaeological, linguistic, and ethnohistorical data. Other investigators have concentrated on trade and tribute (items bi 94005074 and bi 92013584), land (item bi 93002005), nutrition and health (item bi 93001944), and the crucial subject of prehispanic state formation and ordering, with Susan Schroeder's striking readings of Chimalpahin (items bi 93002008 and bi 94005487) and Ross Hassig's penetrating look at precontact Mesoamerican militarism (item bi 93012670) of great significance.

Concern with the myriad consequences of the Spanish invasion is still growing. More and more authors present interpretive syntheses based on the extensive use of mundane indigenous-language documentation such as petitions, testaments, and the like (items bi 94005377 and bi 94005595). The major fruit of this analytical vine is James Lockhart's superb The Nahuas under Spanish rule (item bi 91014246), the most thoroughgoing indigenous-centered reconstruction of Nahua culture currently available and likely to be regarded as a "new Gibson." Nothing comparable for the greater Maya region (nor for Oaxaca, for that matter) has appeared in the last few years, but a body of dynamic thematically- or regionally-focused inquiries have (items bi 93001991, bi 93001952, and bi 91026612), such as Kevin Gosner's revisionist study of the Tzeltal revolt in Chiapas (item bi 93012658). This revolt turned, in part, on frustrated Tzeltal efforts to redefine and control their own experience of Catholicism. A significant number of thought-provoking articles probe the indigenous reaction to, and participation in, the process of religious conversion and education (items bi 94005104, bi 94005166, bi 94005173, bi 94005372, bi 94005142, and bi 92000512). All of these investigations have wider implications for the understanding of indigenous peoples' concepts of themselves, their communities, and their relationships to the Spanish system as a whole.

The more obvious emergence of two comparatively new areas of emphasis in the field also should be highlighted. One group of authors takes us into the lives of women, at the moment mainly those living before the conquest, examining among other things issues of gender and sexuality (items bi 91027235 and bi 94005101); Louise Burkhart's thoughtful work on Nahua concepts of domesticity is an excellent example (item bi 93008158). A second body of work pays greater attention to what might be termed Mesoamerica's periphery, including the Tarascan region, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and Mexico's far north, with the output of two investigators into the sociocultural implications of the cacao industry - William R. Fowler for the Pipil of El Salvador (item bi 94005289) and Janine Gasco for Socunusco (item bi 93001263) - worthy of special attention.

In closing, we want to make readers aware of two new journals which are potential venues for serious ethnohistorical scholarship: the Colonial Latin American Historical Review and the Colonial Latin American Review. It should also be noted that we have reviewed four meaty volumes of the significant journal Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl which have appeared since the publication of HLAS 52. Combined with the wealth of excellent material that has crossed our desks in the preparation of this section, this is all evidence for a dynamic field of scholarship showing every indication of exciting growth in multiple directions.

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