- Trail of Footprints: A History of Indigenous Maps from Viceregal Mexico by Alex Hidalgo
Alex hidalgo's book trail of foot-prints: A History of Indigenous Maps from Viceregal Mexico opens and closes with meditations upon the conditions of the archive. Nearly all of the maps studied in Hidalgo's book were created as legal evidence used in land tenure disputes in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Oaxaca, making each of these interpretations of landscape an inherently argumentative object. For Hidalgo, archival practices affect how scholars might interpret what he describes as a map's "purposefulness" (p. 58), since an archive's priorities may privilege different aspects of a map than its painter intended. Mexico's Archivo General de la Nación appears as something of a protagonist in this book for its role in preserving and digitally disseminating a significant corpus of Indigenous maps. In the book's epilogue, Hidalgo shows that modern archival practices like those used in the AGN have their precedents in the Viceregal period, as he examines the practices and passions of the eighteenth-century historian and Guadalupan devotee Lorenzo Boturini, whose collections filled a chest with often fragmentary manuscripts that still illuminate the Mesoamerican past. In vivid asides that appear throughout the book, Hidalgo observes how archival processes like numbering and textual description confer new identities upon maps as they enter archives for safekeeping and later consultation.
Bookended by its poetic meditations on archiving, Trail of Footprints offers a robust argument that maps were embedded in social relationships from their commission to their realization and their subsequent interpretation. Maps were created and used at the intersection of the interests and expertise of distinct and competing agents, and Hidalgo's book addresses the major players in discrete chapters. In the book's first chapter, a study of patronage, we learn how decades of legal [End Page 286] conflict over land tenure necessitated the reproduction of ancient maps of the town of Xoxocotlán. Hidalgo's granular look at the long history of this case and the maps created toward its resolution reveals the negotiations among scribes, mapmakers, lawyers, and town officials in producing legal evidence and its interpretation. A chapter focused on painters situates artists as a social group, emphasizing the agency of painters as the interpreters of landscape and foregrounding their relationships to the patrons and judicial bodies that relied upon their interpretations. Here, we learn of a painter from Tehuantepec who made multiple maps in his distinctive personal style under different conditions of patronage; particularly important is Hidalgo's argument that this painter adapted his pictorial vocabulary to meet the expectations of his maps' diverse audiences. Materials themselves are accorded an agentive role in Hidalgo's argument, and a chapter on their use notes that the inks, pigments, and supports of Indigenous maps conveyed cultural values for their recipients (and index histories of intervention beyond the moment in which maps were made). Finally, Hidalgo's excellent chapter on authentication notes that commissioning a map implied surrendering power over the landscape to a painter, and examines the processes that agents in the Colonial world used to effectively regain control of maps after they left an artist's hands.
One of the most interesting aspects of this book is Hidalgo's definition of the corpus. Hidalgo shows that mapmaking in Oaxaca was shaped by a somewhat different set of circumstances than those attested in other regions: sociopolitical organization in Oaxaca was relatively decentralized, with less demographic representation of Spanish colonists than in the centers of power, and Indigenous caciques in Oaxaca tended to exercise greater control over land tenure after the Conquest than they were afforded elsewhere. In visual terms, Indigenous painters in Oaxaca also had a distinctive painting tradition from which to draw, with maps borrowing graphic elements from painted codices and lienzos. A helpful, capacious guide to the linguistic terms used in Zapotec and Mixtec languages to describe painters and their work appears in...