ASM MASTER CLASS: “Their books about the antiquities and their sciences”—Understanding Indigenous Mexico Through the Codices

ASM MASTER CLASS: “Their books about the antiquities and their sciences”—Understanding Indigenous Mexico Through the Codices

Monday, March 8, 2021

March 8, 10, 12, 15, and 17, 2021
9:30 a.m. (Arizona time)
taught by Dr. Michael M. Brescia, Curator of Ethnohistory and affiliated Professor of History and Law

The Western world associates manuscript culture with prayerful (and playful) monks writing away in medieval monasteries to preserve knowledge, while Johannes Gutenberg ushered in modernity with his invention of a mechanical metal moveable-type press. Once we leave the confines of western civilization, however, we find striking examples of writing and literacy that reveal the deep and complex historical structures of non-western cultures. This five-part ASM Master Class examines the manuscript culture of ancient Mexico and what the codices tell us (and don't tell us) about the political, economic, social, and cultural rhythms of daily life for the Maya, Mixtec, and Aztec societies. Made of deer hide, agave fibers, or bark paper, the pre-Columbian codex folded like an accordion and could contain images on both sides. After the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521, the codex tradition continued under the auspices of the Spanish missionaries and provided Indigenous peoples with a voice amid the dramatic changes that were taking place all around them. Now looking more like a European-style book, the colonial codex allowed the Indigenous elite to revisit and reimagine their histories prior to the arrival of the conquistadors and the imposition of Spanish colonialism. Adjusting to new realities, Indigenous peoples became active players in the preservation and revitalization of their lifeways, as they took advantage of new techniques in manuscript development to manifest their voices.

Session 1 - Introduction to Pre-Columbian and Colonial Writing Systems in Mexico.  Dr. Brescia establishes the nature and scope of the codex as a physical object of significant historical and cultural import for understanding the rhythms of daily life in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, followed by the cataclysmic changes brought to bear on Indigenous society by the Spanish conquest and revealed in the emerging colonial codex. About 90 minutes with Q&A

Session 2 - Maya Codices.  In the second session of our Master Class, Dr. Brescia will examine and tease out the multiple dimensions of pre-Columbian Maya society as manifested in the Dresden Codex, Madrid Codex, Paris Codex, and the Grolier Codex, the latter having only been authenticated by scholars in 2018.  He will discuss the links between the Maya codices and scholarly efforts to crack the so-called Maya code or hieroglyphic system of writing. About 90 minutes with Q&A

Session 3 - Mixtec Codices.  Dr. Brescia reveals the rich dynastic and cultural history of the Mixtec peoples of Oaxaca and their dynastic genealogies and conquests, as well as the political alliances that they forged in the highlands of Oaxaca before the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century.  Participants will delight in the striking colors and imagery of such Mixtec codices as the Nuttal Codex, Bodley Codex, and the Vienna Codex, among others. About 90 minutes with Q&A

Sessions 4 and 5 - Aztec Codices.  In the final two sessions of our Master Class, Dr. Brescia explores changes and continuities in Aztec society through a close examination of several codices and writings produced just before and right after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec confederation in 1521, including, for example, the Codex Mendoza, Codex Florentine, Codex Duran, Codex Borgia, and the Codex Chimalpahin.  Participants will distinguish between pre-Columbian Aztec writing and the codices assembled under the auspices of the Spanish missionaries.  The Master Class will conclude with an assessment of the codex as a crucial component of Mexico's historical patrimony. About 90 minutes with Q&A


$100 ASM members
$150 non members

Amount paid over $50 is a tax-deductible gift.
Proceeds support Dr. Brescia's research projects.
Cancelation/refund possible up to March 7. Credit card payments incur a 3% fee.

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