- Native Continuities in Colonial Mexico
The way in which scholars approach early modern Mexican culture and history has changed considerably over the years, due in part to the sources upon which they rely. The influence of theoretical methodologies that questioned master narratives of conquest and Eurocentric notions of literacy during the 1980s and '90s allowed for the study and discovery of previously unacknowledged sources mainly produced by indigenous peoples. The work of ethnohistorians, and particularly those working in the New Philology led by James Lockhart, has made a lasting impact on the way scholars in the humanities and social sciences approach and write about indigenous peoples' cultures and histories in the Americas.1 The four [End Page 539] books reviewed here attest to the fact that those trends are still current and are also good examples of the groundbreaking scholarship that is being produced about early modern Mexico. They have all been influenced in one way or another by the aforementioned changes in methodological research, which is evident by the central role that native knowledge plays in their intellectual inquiry. All four books are openly and consciously aiming at revising well-established historiographical paradigms and offering alternative and more nuanced readings of dominant historiographical narratives about Mexico and its people.
Each author's work is clearly informed by his or her own academic discipline, but they all have an interdisciplinary take on the materials and the methods they use in their analysis. Barbara Mundy's book is openly grounded within the discipline of art history, yet she reads a variety of materials that range from native codices to maps, sculpture, and manuscripts in indigenous languages; and she analyzes them from the perspective of theories of space, producing a highly engaging book that crosses disciplinary boundaries. The same can be said about Amber Brian's and Osvaldo Pardo's work. While informed by their training as literary scholars, both Brian and Pardo use ethnohistorical methods and place archival research at the center of their analytical endeavors. They not only carry out close readings of primary materials but more importantly they place them within a sociohistorical context to provide a much more complex picture of the cultural dynamics of the time they study. Working from the discipline of history, Peter Villella also engages in cultural readings of archival materials, and he analyzes more traditional indigenous historiographical accounts, usually studied by literary critics, in tandem with documents of a bureaucratic nature. He attends to discourse analysis in the sources he studies, and pays special attention to uses of language and rhetoric. Through their interdisciplinarity, these authors draw connections between documents, colonial subjects, and European actors to make evident the network of intellectual relationships that existed and the implications that this had in the making of early modern Mexico.
Several parallels can be drawn between the four books under review; however, the most salient one is their argument for the continuity of a significant and active indigenous presence throughout the colonial period, in clear opposition to more traditional historiographical narratives that emphasize [End Page 540] rupture with the native past. This dominant line of historiography has emphasized the losses that many indigenous groups experienced after succumbing to European colonial power. Its focus has been to identify instances of resistance and to chart the survival of "authentic" aspects of native culture. In general, the dominant narrative has been to recognize a tenuous indigenous elite that faded away by the end of the seventeenth century, and the absorption and later interpretation of indigenous knowledge by a cadre of Creoles and mestizos. However, the books reviewed here offer a more nuanced narrative, one that allows for the prevalence of indigenous groups...