New Perspectives on the Ethnohistory of the Spanish Borderlands

AHA Session 197
Conference on Latin American History 41
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Columbia 8 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Mark G. Hanna, University of California, San Diego
War and Reducción in Colonial Mexico’s Chichimecatlalli, 1590–1610
Dana Velasco Murillo, University of California, San Diego
Christian or Family Symbols? The Drawings on the Ceiling of Las Trampas Chapel, New Mexico
Danna Alexandra Levin-Rojo, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana–Azcapotzalco
The Pine Nut Trade in 17th-Century Mexico
Tatiana Seijas, Penn State University
The Nahuas and New Mexico
Travis Jeffres, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Leslie S. Offutt, Vassar College

Session Abstract

New Perspectives on the Ethnohistory of the Spanish Borderlands

In recent years, ethnohistory, at least as applied to colonial Mexico, has become virtually synonymous with the study of documents written by indigenous people, despite the fact that it has historically employed a broad range of methodologies to recover the native past. This focus on indigenous sources has functioned to channel ethnohistorians’ energies to central and southern Mexico, where the vast majority of native colonial documents were written. This panel, in contrast, brings together scholarship on northern Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, an area that has not received sufficient attention from ethnohistorians owing to its paucity of native sources. Addressing key historiographical lacunae, the panel sheds fresh light on European-Native relations in the Americas and offers critical new perspectives on the indigenous past.

Compared to central Mexico, we know little concerning northern Indians’ experiences under colonialism. The four panel papers seek to redress this imbalance. Dana Velasco Murillo explores the clash between Spanish settlers and northern semi-nomads known as the Chichimec War in “War and Reducción in Colonial Mexico’s Chichimecatlalli, 1590-1610.” Previous scholarship has approached this conflict from a Spanish perspective, but little has been written concerning Chichimecs’ experiences of the war. Velasco charts Chichimec responses to Spanish violence and subsequent peace efforts, using the policy of reducción, or forced resettlement in towns, as a window into indigenous social life under the new regime.

Economic expansion and the spread of Christianity mark important chapters in the historiography of the colonial Mexican north. Ordinarily, exploitation at the hands of Spanish miners dominates the narrative of local indigenes’ engagement with the colonial economy. Tatiana Seijas’s “The Pine Nut Trade in Seventeenth-Century Mexico” stands this on its head, demonstrating that pre-conquest trade routes influenced the colonial traffic in this indigenous staple and highlighting how natives profited from its exchange in an expanded market. Danna A. Levin Rojo uncovers a similar pattern of pre-Hispanic patterns finding expression in new, colonial settings. Her “Christian or Family Symbols? The Drawings on the Ceiling of Las Trampas Chapel, New Mexico” explores the relationship between the religious iconography of a New Mexican church and the Testerian Codices, booklets used in central Mexico for indoctrinating natives to Christianity and which incorporated Mesoamerican visual imagery. Levin Rojo’s provocative analysis suggests that processes of spiritual conversion in the north drew on syncretic processes and cross-cultural dialogues pioneered in central Mexico.

Travis Jeffres’s “The Nahuas and New Mexico,” also draws parallels between central Mexico and Spain’s northernmost colony. Jeffres argues that indigenous colonists from the south formed an integral part of New Mexico’s economic and social life, but their marginalized status exposed them to physical violence and even Inquisitorial inquests. Collectively the panel suggests that natives of the northern borderlands experienced dramatic changes to their subsistence strategies, economic activities, and social organizations as a result of their contact with the expanding colonial state. But through their struggles to maintain their ways of life, they indelibly shaped the colonial world.

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