Posts Tagged 'Laura Matthew'

Historians Working: Awards Season

Late winter and spring are often called “award season” by show-business types: the Golden Globes and Oscars, the Grammys and Tonys—the list goes on and on.

Spring is also award season for academics, and MU Historians have had a very good year! Here’s a list of the grants and awards our friends and colleagues in the history department have earned this year.  Scroll down and you’ll see more detailed descriptions of their projects.

Tim McMahon: Way Klingler Humanities Fellowship

Jenn Finn: Way Klingler Young Scholar Award; Scott R. Jacobs Fund Fellowship for Studies on Alexander the Great

Bryan Rindfleisch: Way Klingler Young Scholar Award; Bright InstituteFellow,Knox College

Kristen Foster: Summer Faculty Fellowship

Chima Korieh: Regular Research Grant/Summer Faculty Fellowship

Cory Haala: Schmitt Fellowship, MU;Paul Simon Congressional Papers Travel Stipend; Dirksen Congressional Research Grant

Lisa Lamson: Center for Transnational Justice Graduate Student Research Grant; Lord Baltimore Research Fellowship, Maryland Historical Society; MU Graduate School Dean’s Research Enhancement Award

Luke Greenwalt: Center for Transnational Justice Graduate Student Research Grant

Sam Harshner: Colonial Dames Research Fellowship

Ben Nestor: Funded Attendee: Teaching Anti-Semitism in the Twenty-First Century, York University (Canada)

Maggie Nettesheim-Hoffman: Travel grant from the Economic History Society at the London School of Economics; Tilly Award from the Social Science History Association.

Laura Matthew: Mellon Grant—“Remembering Madre Rosa: Oral Histories of a Marquette Doctor in Highland Guatemala, 1962-1992.”

Alison Efford: Mellon Grant—“HIST 4120 Collaboration with St. Rafael School to Research the Latino History of Milwaukee,”

Lezlie Knox: Mentor of the Year, Arts and Sciences

Jolene Kreisler: Outstanding Staff Member of the Year, Arts and Sciences

Major faculty research awards: The University makes several research awards funded by the Way Klingler fund each; the awards are made at the Distinguished Scholars Reception every March.  This year three historians were recognized for the past accomplishments and for their ongoing research.

Tim McMahon became the first member of the department to receive a Way Klingler Humanities Fellowship—only one is awarded each year, and it provides $20,000 in research funding for three years. Tim’s book focuses on a pivotal moment in modern British and Irish history—that is, the establishment of two separate states on the island of Ireland in 1921-22.  He seeks to understand the emergence of two distinct national identities in Ireland between 1910 and 1930, building on sociologist Rogers Brubaker’s insight that group identities are not static but occur as events in time that are changeable and analyzable. What makes the presence of the Irish border so important to understanding identity formation in the 1920s is that neither Irish nationalists nor unionists had proposed dividing the island in any serious way prior to 1918. Once the Tim acceptsboundary was in place, however, conflicting forces associated with state-formation on the one hand and civil society on the other created a new dynamic, as island-wide institutions (such as churches) and trade networks adapted to link people in new ways. Indeed, until late in 1925, many thought that the border might cease to exist because Irish and British negotiators had agreed to create a boundary commission to assess exchanging territory according to “the will of the people.” That phrase and the mechanism of a commission to assess the popular “will” came almost directly from the treaties written at the Versailles Conference of 1919, and in fact, staff who served on the Irish Boundary Commission had experience serving on similar commissions in central Europe after Versailles. Placing the Irish case into this context is, thus, critical to understanding what the state actors believed they were doing. But it goes only a limited way toward helping historians assess how the people of Ireland—and especially the people along the new border—saw themselves before the boundary existed, while its existence remained in doubt, or after the British and Irish governments suppressed the Commission’s recommendations. (The border remains intact to this day.) Tracking opinions about border identities before and after partition will enable Tim to move beyond the rhetoric of those claiming to speak on behalf of “Irish” nationalists or “British” unionists to assess the wider population’s own self-conceptions, pace Brubaker. Given the ongoing importance of partition in Ireland and elsewhere in the former British Empire, as well as the implications of the Brexit referendum, a detailed study of identity formation on this frontier has both historical and contemporary resonance.

Bryan Rindfleisch and Jenn Finn became the third and fourth historians to receive Way Klingler Young Scholar Awards(their awards also mark the first time two members of a humanities department have earned the awards in the same year). The awards provide a semester sabbatical and $2000 of research funding.

Bryan acceptsBryan’s first book, George Galphin’s Intimate Empire: Intercultural Family, Trade, & Colonialism in Early America, will be published by the University of Alabama Press in 2019. His new project, for which he was named a Way Klingler Young Scholar, is tentatively called From Creek (Mvskoke) to Cherokee (Tsalagi):The Entangled Histories of Native America, 1600-1800. Bryan’s ambitious goalis to change the ways in which historians understand and articulate the history of Native America by demonstrating the complex and multi-dimensional inter-connections of Indigenous societies in Early America.  His topic will be the intertwined histories of the Creek and Cherokee tribes in the eighteenth century southeast, who through intermarriage and other connections came to share territory and to live in shaed communities.  This led a younger generation of Creeks and Cherokees assert their own political interests separate from that of the traditional structures of authority in their societies. “This,” as Bryan says, “only scratches the surface of many such intersections between Native groups in Early America.”

            Jenn published her first book,Much Ado about Marduk: Questioning Discourses of Royalty in First Millennium Mesopotamian Literature, a year ago. Her Way Klingler Young Scholar award will further her work on a second book, History Rewritten: Revisionism in/on the Age of Alexander the Great,will focus on specific—though not mutually exclusive—ways in which history was represented both during and after Alexander’s Jenn acceptsreign. She will accomplish this through a series of case studies that examine the ways in which Alexander himself—as well as those who recorded his history many centuries later—manipulated received narratives of Mediterranean history to create something entirely new in their own period. In addition to helping  us understanding the phenomenon of historical revisionism, a major goal of the book is to make ancient history accessible to a wider audience of scholars in the Humanities.

Bryan received another honor this spring: he is one of fourteen members of the first cohort of fourteen fellows in the newly established Bright Institute at Knox College, a program for professors who teach early American history at liberal arts colleges. They will attend a two-week, in-residence summer seminar for three years on the Knox campus. Each year’s seminar will be co-hosted by an eminent professor of American history before 1848 and a pedagogical consultant who will help participants turn their research into incisive classroom opportunities.

Read more about this exciting program at https://www.knox.edu/news/bright-institute-announces-first-cohort-of-scholars.

Jenn also received a $2500 research grant from the Scott R. Jacobs Fund Fellowship for Studies on Alexander the Great; it will help fund a research trip to Greece late in the summer.

The Committee on Research offers a number of Summer Faculty Fellowships (SFF) every year, along with Regular Research Grants (RRG). The former pays for two months of time to write or do research; the latter provides funding for travel to archives and other research costs.  This year, two history faculty received grants this year.

Kristin Foster also received an SFF for “Finding Cato Adams,” which is part of a larger book manuscript entitled Haiti’s Mirror: Reflections of Race, Revolution, and Equality in Early Americathat sets American ideas about equality in the context of the revolutionary Atlantic World. “Finding Cato Adams” seeks to recover the lives of free black citizens in Foster01the early Mid-Atlantic. To date, scholars have argued that the founding generation did not support racial equality in early America. This project questions and complicates this argument by asserting that the first generation of Americans shaped a republic of propertied citizens, only moving to a white man’s republic after the violence of the Haitian Revolution. While the voices of Cato Adams and hundreds of free black heads of households in the 1790 census have been hushed by time and distance, their lives are significant as testimonies of black citizenship in revolutionary-era America.

Chima Korieh received a Regular Research Grant and a Summer Faculty Fellowship for Chima-Korieha project tentatively called “The Genuine Farmer: Gender and the Dynamics of Agricultural Change in Colonial Southeastern Nigeria,” which will be a history of the gendered nature of colonial agricultural planning and their impact on agricultural transformation in southeastern Nigeria from 1900 to 1960. Chima will explore the specific circumstances under which rural farmers produced, how colonial planners ignored women, and their effects on rural life. He hopes to show that changing gender relations, local perspectives, ecological and demographic variables, and local responses, offer a better understanding of agricultural policies and agricultural transformation during this crucial period in Nigeria’s history.

 Graduate Student Awards and Fellowships:

Several graduate students also received research funding this spring.  Cory Haala s200_cory.haalareceived one of a handful of Schmitt Fellowships from MU’s graduate school. This provides a full year fellowship to complete research and begin writing his dissertation on “The Progressive Center: Midwestern Liberalism inn the Age of Reagan, 1978-1992.”

The MU Center for Transnational Justice awarded $2500 Graduate Student Research Grants to PhD candidate Lisa Lamson and MA student Luke Greenwalt.  Lisa’s grant will help fund research for her dissertation on “Black Girlhood and Education in Baltimore City, 1820-1890,” while Luke’s will help him complete research on “Patterns of Racism and Nationalism in post-WWII Germany.”

40030Lisa has also received a Lord Baltimore Research Fellowship from the Maryland Historical Society and a Graduate School Dean’s Research Enhancement Award. The former gives her expanded access to the Historical Society’s collection, give her the chance to present her research-in-progress in a brown-bag presentation, write a post for the library’s blog, and submit my finished work for possible publication for the Maryland Historical Magazine.  The latter provides a $5,000 stipend to allow her to prepare and write a major extramural research funding application.

HarshnerSam Harshner received a $4000 Colonial Dames Fellowship to help fund research on his dissertation, which is tentatively called “Pope’s Day and Masculinity: An Ideology of the American Revolution.”

Ben Nestor received full funding to attend a workshop on “Teaching Anti-Semitism in the Twenty-First Century,” at York University (Canada), which is Sponsored by the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University, the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto photo-ss-benjamin-nestorand the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Antisemitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University. This intensive summer institute is for advanced graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and early career scholars.

Maggie Nettesheim-Hoffman’s travel grant from the Economic History Society partially funded her travel to the New Directions in American Philanthropy Conference in Sheffield, England, where she delivered the paper, Maggie-Nettesheim“A Menace to the National Welfare: The Final Report of the United States Commission on Industrial Relations & The Progressive Era Critique of American Philanthropic Foundations.”  The Tilly Award from the Social Science History Association recognizes an outstanding graduate student paper at the SSHA’s annual conference (this year in Montreal, Canada); Maggie’s award-winning paper was on“The Philanthropic Factory: Capitalism, Corporate Charity, and Forging New Socio-Economic Worker Identities in Milwaukee,”

Mellon Grants

The College of Arts and Science’s Mellon fund provides funding for projects that enhance undergraduate education. The department has received a number of these grants over the years, many of which have funded public history programming. This year,  Laura Matthew received $13,000 for “Remembering Madre Rosa: Oral Histories of a Marquette Matthew-KS2A8144Doctor in Highland Guatemala, 1962-1992.” She is leading an undergraduate student research team to investigate the history of dozens of Maryknoll Sisters who studied at Marquette in the mid-20th century, then ran a rural regional hospital in the middle of the Guatemalan civil war. The Mellon grant will pay for Laura and the students to travel to Guatemala in the summer of 2018. The  team visited the archives of the Maryknoll Sisters in Ossining, NY, over spring break, with support from the Office of International Education.

alisonAlison Efford received nearly $1000 of Mellon funding forHIST 4120 Collaboration with St. Rafael School to Research the Latino History of Milwaukee,” which enables students from St. Rafael School on Milwaukee’s South Side to travel to campus several times during the course of a semester to work on Milwaukee Latino history projects with students in her immigration history class.  William Denzer, a graduate assistant, blogged about this project last spring at Historians@Work (https://marquettehistorians.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/marquette-history-students-collaborate-with-middle-schoolers-to-research-the-latino-history-of-milwaukee/).

Annual Klingler College of Arts and Sciences Awards

            Finally, although not directly related to research, two members of the department received prestigious awards at the annual Klingler College of Arts and Sciences Awards.

Lezlie Knox was named Mentor of the Year.  Honored chiefly for her work as Director of Graduate Studies for half a decade, Lezlie was described by one student supporter in this way:Without her counsel, I may have passed up a number of significant opportunities that proved to be key components in my journey as a scholar. She has a way of listening to her students and understanding the variety of individual strengths we bring to our studies, and makes individual recommendations for success based upon our unique talents. I owe much of my success as a graduate student and as an academic to Dr. Knox. My successes, however, are only one example. She is an advocate for all of her students and has guided many of my colleagues on to similar achievements.  We are stronger students and professional academics, and better prepared for the world outside Marquette University because of Dr. Knox’s work on our behalf.”

IMG_3781Jolene Kreisler was named Outstanding Staff Member. Jolene’s nomination declared thather enthusiastic kindness towards students and her commitment to fulfilling her duties  . . . contributes to the academic mission of the University. Jolene has definitely taken ownership of her position at MU, and considers herself a representative of the university when dealing with students, parents, and other members of the MU community.  She is very, very good at her job, but her demeanor, kindness, professionalism, and good cheer truly separate her from many other administrative assistants on campus.

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Where in the World Are MU Historians?

Years ago PBS aired a popular children’s show called “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” With the clever live-action sketches, animation, and an acapella group, viewers learned geography—not just where a country was on a map, but how the people of those countries lived.

One of the primary objectives of Historians@Work is to present the many “journeys” taken by MU historians and students.  Some are figurative, but many are literal.  The latter is certainly the case in this installment, as we learn about the upcoming summer research adventures of a half dozen of our associate professors.  Each was recently awarded funding from Marquette’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, which grants Summer Faculty Fellowships (stipends) and Regular Research Grants (for travel expenses) to two or three dozen Marquette faculty each year.

This summer our band of historians will outdo the fictional Carmen San Diego, as they conduct research in Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Germany, Ireland, and Italy, as well as Virginia, California, and Chicago.

This year’s awards, worth over $50,000, made history for our department—we have never received so many awards in a single year. This obviously reflects the interesting subjects these historians are exploring, as well as the success of their previous research.  Below, in their own words, you can read about their projects and their travel plans.

Michael Donoghue: Race, Identity, and Gender in U.S. Military-Cuban Relations 1941-1964  I plan to travel to Cuba and Virginia this upcoming summer to investigate the local records of U.S. Military-Cuban relations from 1941-1964 in Havana and Guantánamo City, Cuba and at the Marine Historical Division in Quantico.  3The focus of my research is on the intersections of race, identity, and gender that occurred between U.S. military personnel and the Cuban people from World War II until the closing of the U.S. Guantánamo naval base from Cuban contact in 1964 – and how these interactions contributed to the anti-American atmosphere of the Cuban Revolution.  I hope that this project will make a significant contribution toward our understanding of the many strands and forces that helped shape the Cuban Revolution beyond, high status actors, larger events, and economic indices, as it focuses on the personal and social relations that contributed to many revolutionary processes.  Michael is author of Borderland on the Isthmus: Race, Culture, and the Struggle for the Canal Zone (2014).

Alison Clark Efford, Suicide and Immigrant Emotions, 1882-1924  I received funding for two research trips, one to San Diego to investigate suicides among Japanese immigrants in the early twentieth century and the other to Chicago to research suicide, immigrant Catholicism, and the influential “Chicago School” of sociology. My larger book project explores the negative emotions that sometimes accompanied immigration by addressing the extensively documented act of suicide. I probe the inner lives of a variety of immigrants and shows how suicides drew wider attention to immigrant emotions. As early as 1861, the New York Times noted that the foreig1n-born accounted for about a third of the city’s population but three-quarters of its recorded suicides. By the turn of the century, the suicidality of immigrants was accepted as common wisdom. Whether commentators thought it reflected ethnic characteristics or the trauma of relocation, immigrant suicide became entangled with fears about alienation in modern society and rapid demographic change.  Alison is author of German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era (2013)

Lezlie Knox, Mariano of Florence and Religious Life in Cinquecento Italy.    Mariano was a prolific author—in less than 25 years, he wrote fifteen treatises in both Latin and Italian.  These works range from shorter works on devotional themes to lengthy—really lengthy–histories of his religious order (male, female, and lay branches of the Franciscan Order) and his native Tuscany.  Many of these works remain in manuscript, due in no small part to Mariano’s cramped handwriting!  This grant will fund my completion of archival work in Italy, as well as time to do work at the Antonianum, the Franciscan Order’s pontifical university in Rome, which has one of the best libraries for my subject.  However, I am not just interested in Mariano as a Franciscan historian, but also in the ways his works describes religious culture in the towns and ecclesiastical centers of late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Italy.  My study of his life and writings contributes to a broader 2understanding of society and culture during the later Middle Ages, particularly one which approaches that era as vital in its own right rather than symptomatic of later medieval decay or, conversely, a threshold to the humanistic attractions of the Renaissance.  Lezlie is author of Creating Clare of Assisi: Female Franciscan Identities in Later Medieval Italy (2008) and co-editor of the forthcoming Visions of Sainthood in Medieval Rome:  The Lives of Margherita Colonna by Giovanni Colonna and Stefania.  She has also received a $3000 Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society to help fund this research.

Laura Matthew: Circulations: Death and Opportunity on Mesoamerica’s Costa del Sur, 1500-1630  I will devote the summer to research for a book-length project examining migration, networks, and trade along Mesoamerica’s southern Pacific6 Coast in the century after European invasion. The SFF and RRG will fund a deep foray into the Guatemalan national archives, a first exploration of the regional archives of Chiapas, and travel along the routes described in the documents to achieve a more grounded sense of the places and spaces she is writing about.  Laura is author of Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala (2012), recipient of the 2013 Howard F. Cline Memorial Prize from the Conference on Latin American History and the 2013 Murdo MacLeod Prize from the Southern Historical Association. 

Timothy G. McMahon, Beyond the Boundary Commission: Partitioned Identities in Modern Ireland   The United Kingdom government partitioned the island of Ireland through legislation in 1920, creating two states that claimed distinct identities (Northern Ireland as British, the Irish Free State as Irish). Partition had, however, been proposed and rejected on two prior occasions by many of the people who seemingly embraced it in the 1920s. A the new states sought to reinforce the distinctiveness of their populations, people living on either side of the new border continued to interact in spite of the new reality. The present project builds on the work of Rogers Brubaker to propose a new way of thinking about how the reality of a novel state boundary shaped identities, examining the 4interdependence of daily lived experience with movement politics and parliamentary legislation. Given the recent Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the possible shake-up of the United Kingdom—which has already seen calls from some in Scotland to secede and from some in Ireland and Northern Ireland to examine the relevance of the existing border—a detailed study of identity formation on this frontier has both historical and contemporary relevance. My proposal will enable me to undertake three weeks of archival research in Dublin and Belfast before spending approximately six weeks drafting an article to address the changed attitudes of the early 1920s.  Tim is author of Grand Opportunity: The Gaelic Revival and Irish Society, 1893-1910 (2008) and editor of the memoir Pádraig Ó Fathaigh’s War of Independence: Recollections of a Galway Gaelic Leaguer (2000).

Peter Staudenmaier, The Politics of Blood and Soil: Environmental Ideals in Nazi GermanyMy project aims toward a book manuscript examining controversial historical questions about the role of environmental protection efforts and ecological sustainability within the Nazi regime. Though scholars in a variety of fields recognize the prominence of “blood and soil” ideology in the Third Reich – the belief in an essential link between natural regeneration and racial renewal – there is no consensus on its historical significance or practical relevance. My research represents the first comprehensive analysis of the topic, based on extensive archival research5 over the past five years. It is structured around three main case studies: the emergence of early alternative agricultural movements during the Weimar era and their reception under Nazi rule; the role of Nazi “advocates for the landscape” in environmental planning during the Third Reich; and the ecological components of Nazi policy in conquered territories in Eastern Europe during World War II. I plan to use the Summer Faculty Fellowship to complete the final stages of research and begin writing the book.   Peter is author of Between Occultism and Nazism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race in the Fascist Era (2014).

Camionetas and a Nahuatl Mapping Project

By Laura Matthew

Riding the camioneta is a classic gringo experience in Guatemala. But it can be confusing. Buses to Quetzaltenango, for instance, say that they’re going to Xela. That’s because the K’iche’ Maya city Xe Lajuj Noj is on most Guatemalan maps called Quetzaltenango in Nahuatl, language of the Aztec empire and of the Mexican invaders who led the Spanish into Central America in 1524. Despite Maya speakers still constituting the majority of Guatemala’s population as they did in the sixteenth century, almost all Guatemala’s place names are officiallyGuatemalaBus Nahuatl. Geography is written by the victors.

But is it true that Nahuatl came to Central America mostly via invasion? The primary indigenous language of El Salvador is Nawat-Pipil, still spoken today by descendants of Nahua-speaking migrants who arrived in the region in the thirteenth century. Some Nahuatl documents produced in colonial Guatemala look like their counterparts in Mexico – but many others are written in a dialect so distinctive that Spanish friars gave it is own nomenclature and used it to create new catechisms for evangelizing the native population.

A good decade ago (!), linguistic anthropologist Sergio F. Romero and I started collecting colonial-era Nahuatl documents from Central America. I and other historians like Paul Lokken and Robinson Herrera were also noticing references in Spanish documents to Nahuatl being spoken by Nahuas, Mayas, Spaniards, and Africans. Sergio and I published our thoughts on this corpus in a 2013 article, but a lot of questions remained. We had no data for huge swaths of the region. We had not systematically looked at other sources like church records or Spanish chroniclers. And our documents raised as many linguistic questions as they answered. Indeed, some of our conclusions in that article have shifted since its publication.

Enter the Nahuatl in Central America Mapping Project, which I am creating with the help of History graduate student Ben Nestor and advice from Indiana-Purdue University’s Polis Center for geospatial informatics. We hope that visualizing the uses of Nahuatl in Central America over space and time will suggest new ways of looking at things. How consistently and for how long, for instance, was Nahuatl used as a language of translation in any given area? How did the Spanish classify different regions linguistically, and did those classifications change? Where and when in Central America do we see concentrations of texts with certain dialectical features?

The GIS component of the project is important, its collaborative character even more so. It would be difficult for any single researcher to ferret out all or most of the many references to Nahuatl that lie scattered throughout Spanish colonial archives. And as a historian, I ask very different questions of the documents than my colleagues trained in linguistics, geography, or anthropology. Putting our heads together consolidates our research efforts around this particular set of questions, pools our collective knowledge, and reveals our disciplinary blind spots. We can accomplish a lot more together than any of us could do separately.

So we begin this spring with an advisory board of specialists in southern Mesoamerican linguistics, history, anthropology, geography, and religious studies, who will help Ben and I create a rich ontology that turns our existing documents into data. The next steps will be linking that data to a series of maps and launching the project website. A broad range of scholars will be invited to join the project as official (and officially recognized) contributors, by uploading their own documents and participating in the resulting conversation as new data is transferred to the maps. I think of this as “curated crowdsourcing”: verified and academically sound, but also open, interdisciplinary, dynamic, collective – and hopefully surprising.

Colonial-era documents and geospatial humanities help us dig deep into the history of Mesoamerica. We thereby honor the living descendants of ancient Mesoamericans, millions of whom ride the camionetas every day.

LaurMatthewLASAa Matthew is an associate professor of history whose first book, Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala (2012) was awarded the 2013 Howard Cline Memorial Prize, Conference on Latin American History and the 2013 Murdo MacLeod Prize, Latin American and Caribbean Section, Southern Historical Association.  She is the 2014-2015 holder of the Way-Klinger Sabbatical Award.

The More Things Change…

Laura Matthew, associate professor of Latin American history, checks in from Spain, where she is conducting research with the support of a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and shares her thoughts on how a recent archival discovery sheds new light on the historical relationship between racial discrimination and mass incarceration.

National Public Radio recently published this article on the high proportion of black males in jail in Wisconsin – the highest in the nation by far, a statistic that is primarily driven by Milwaukee.

MatthewHeadShot copyThat same week, I stumbled across a handwritten letter in the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla, Spain. It treats neither the century nor the themes of my current research. But its description of the discrimination facing people of African descent in late colonial Guatemala was so eloquent – and sadly, modern – that I transcribed it in full. (What follows is a somewhat free translation of parts of the letter into English. The full Spanish transcription will be published in the forthcoming volume of the academic journal Mesoamérica.)

A little context: at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Guatemala, slavery persisted but most people of African descent were free and had been for generations. Some had stopped paying the extra taxes demanded of free people of color, usually by serving in the military. Some had moved into positions of local political power, or were practicing professions like medicine, engineering, and law.

Continue reading ‘The More Things Change…’

Lost and Found: Three hundred year-old Mexican document found in Milwaukee

Laura Matthew on the secret life of primary sources and the responsibility historians have to them, and to each other, when documenting the past. 

I have been thinking about how documents are lost, then found.

A week or so ago, my friend and colleague Aims McGuiness from the History department at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (UWM) left me a voice mail message. “There’s this mysterious document at the American Geographical Society Library here at UWM,” he said. “It looks colonial-era, and maybe Mexican. The librarians don’t know what it is, or how they got it. Could you come look at it?”

“Ooh, fun!” I emailed him back (yes, that’s a direct quote). “I can always make time for a lost document.”

Little did I know. A few days later, Jovanka Ristic and Kay Guilden at the AGS Library unrolled in front of me a piece of bark paper on textile, about six feet long and two feet wide. The document had the characteristic look of an indigenous land title from Mexico’s mid-colonial period, a mix of traditional pictographic narration and alphabetic text.

Two sections in Spanish told me that the document dated from 1691-1709, and came from Santa Catharina de Tepexi. The rest of the text looked oddly like Zapotec – odd, because Tepexi is in the current state of Puebla, whereas Zapotec is spoken further southwest in Oaxaca. Since I am no expert in indigenous languages (nor, as it turns out, in Mexican geography), this was as far as my observations could take me.

But I knew who could take it further. The next day I wrote my friend and colleague Michel Oudijk at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Michel and I co-edited a book together in the mid-2000s. He studies ancient Zapotec history through the pictographic writings of the colonial period. He also wrote a book on the leader of Tepexi, Puebla, during the conquest period. “Hey Michel,” I wrote, “there’s this document here in Milwaukee….” I described what I’d seen, and sent some pictures the librarians had provided.

“Wooooooooooooooowwwwwwww, Es el Códice de Santa Catarina Ixtepeji!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” came the response in my email a day later. (Again, a direct quote).

As it turned out, Michel and his friend and colleague Sebastián van Doesburg had been searching for this document for over a decade, in archives throughout Mexico, Europe, and the United States. It is not from Tepexi in Puebla, but from the Zapotec town of Santa Catarina Ixtepeji in Oaxaca. Sebastián had even published an article on the document in 2000, based on a grainy black-and-white photograph of the document’s left-hand corner from the 1950s that he had found in the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City.

Scholars writing in the 1960s reported that a document on leather from Santa Catarina Ixtepeji had been sold to a German consul in the early twentieth century. The scholars included this information in their catalogues of pictorial manuscripts from Mexico, with the hope that someday, somewhere, a document that was once seen would resurface.

(Sebastián’s research suggested that in fact there may have been two lost documents from Santa Catarina de Ixtepeji. The second, it seemed, was sold by a British consular official in Oaxaca named Rickards, a Mexican of Scottish descent, from his private collection. This is the document at the AGS Library).

I rode the bus home that afternoon with a big, goofy smile on my face. I will not use the once-lost Códice de Santa Catarina de Ixtepeji in my own research – but I know exactly how excited Michel and Sebastián were feeling at that moment.

I know, because last year I got an email from my friend and colleague Christopher Lutz, informing me that Sebastián van Doesburg had found the lost city council books of the first successful Spanish capital of Guatemala. Those books, dating from 1530-1553. had been stolen and sold from Guatemala sometime in the last decade of the nineteenth century.

At the time, Sebastián was doing research in the Hispanic Society in New York City. The archivist there asked him to look at these books. Sebastián looked, and though it wasn’t his area of research, knew they were important. He wrote Chris, and voilá. A century-long mystery solved, an incalculable resource for the history of Guatemala returned to the scholarly community. The “lost” cabildo books are currently being transcribed for publication by a Guatemalan team of historians.

I rode the bus with a big, goofy smile on my face that day, too.

There is an unpleasant side to this tale. Countless pieces of Mesoamerican history are scattered throughout Europe and the United States, as a consequence of direct or indirect imperialism and the power of the purse. Antiquities-hunting became something of a craze in the nineteenth century. Dealers scoured indigenous villages for old stuff they could sell to the highest bidder, often a foreign business magnate with a penchant for collecting.

Scholars also bought, copied, and “borrowed” manuscripts. Sometimes things were simply taken. And this swindling continues. In 1995, the politically-appointed president of the national archives in Guatemala sent his wife to sell sixteenth-century documents to Swann Gallery in New York City. Oftentimes, these precious pieces of the past end up hanging on someone’s living room wall or tucked away, “lost,” in an unorganized bundle sold or donated to a library after the buyer’s death.

When I once found a document signed by the famous conquistador Bernal Díaz de Castillo in the Guatemalan archives, I sat in satisfied awe for a few moments at my desk. But I was careful to mention it only to a few trusted Guatemalan friends and colleagues. A document with Díaz del Castillo’s signature currently goes for $125,000; royal decrees from seventeenth-century Guatemala go for $30,000.

But today, I can’t keep the smile off my face. I have repeated the mantra “friend and colleague” because even though research and writing can be solitary, it also means being part of a community. Friends and colleagues, librarians and archivists, all share time together in the archive. We share ideas about what we find, and the challenge of writing about it in some coherent, convincing way. We also share information, and each other’s joy at finding a key fragment of the past that was once lost.

When one of those fragments is recovered, so is piece of history. It’s why we do what we do, and there are few moments that are quite as satisfying.

Update: AGS curator emeritus Christopher Baruth has discovered that the Códice was sold to the AGS in 1917 by a mining engineer, A.E. Place. Baruth suspects that Place had bought it from the private collection of Rickards, whose family was also involved in the mining industry.

Laura Matthew is an assistant professor of Latin American History who specializes in colonial Guatemala.  Her first book, Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala will be coming out soon (Spring 2012) through the University of North Carolina Press.


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