Societies of the World 30/Anthropology e-175 Tuesdays & Thursdays Harvard Hall 202 Harvard University Fall, 2010

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Moctezuma’s México: Then and Now
Societies of the World 30/Anthropology E-175

Tuesdays & Thursdays Harvard Hall 202

Harvard University - Fall, 2010

© Malinche con Cortés, By: Roberto Cueva del Rio

Professor Davíd Carrasco

Divinity School and Anthropology

Office: Peabody Museum, 57 A

Professor William Fash

Department of Anthropology and Peabody Museum

Office: Peabody Museum, 36

Head Teaching Fellow: Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa


Teaching Fellow: Chris Callahan


Course Summary

This course focuses on the profound social and symbolic continuities and changes in the still evolving cultural traditions of Mesoamerica including those practiced in the areas of the US-Mexico borderlands. We use the phrase “Moctezuma’s Mexico” in both literal and metaphorical senses to refer to 1) the social history, ritual practices, aesthetics and religious cosmovision of Mesoamerica’s last political kingdom, the Aztec Empire (1327-1521), 2) the religio-political organization of selected major Maya and Toltec urban centers operating under divine kings, warrior cults, and sacred scribes before and after the arrival of Europeans in Mexico in 1517, 3) the gendered, sexual, racial, and religious nature of the ‘Encuentro'/Great Encounter between European and Mesoamerican societies and 4) the ways citizens and immigrants from Mexico, parts of Central America, and the US remember and utilize Aztec and Maya myths, rites, and aesthetics in the contemporary political, religious, and legal processes in the US-Mexico “borderlands.” In our views, the borderlines and borderlands linking the US and Mexico are social theatres where the exchanges of diverse values, languages and political agendas are influenced to varying degrees by Moctezuma’s Mexico, then and now.

Moctezuma’s Mexico is taught from an interdisciplinary perspective utilizing the methodologies of religious studies and archaeology to enable students to interpret these dynamic changes within the longue durée (long event) of several of the oldest living civilizations in the world. We will use lectures and section meetings to focus on Mesoamerican “arts” including the foods, music, dance, and performance traditions of various historical periods. We will utilize the extraordinary ethnographic and archeological collections of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in a "hands-on" way. This will include participant/observation exercises related to the “Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos” practices among Latinos today and in the yearly October celebration in the Peabody Museum.
Required Readings:

  • Bonfil Batalla, Guillermo

México Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization.

Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

  • Carrasco, Davíd, ed.

The History of the Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz del Castillo.

Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008, appears as

HCNS on syllabus

  • Carrasco, Davíd and Eduardo Matos Moctezuma.

Moctezuma’s México: Visions of the Aztec World.

Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2003.

  • Clendinnen, Inga

Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570.

2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

  • Fash, William L.

Scribes, Warriors and Kings: the City of Copán and the Ancient Maya. Rev. ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2001.

  • Townsend, Richard F.

The Aztecs. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2009.

  • A Course Reader ®

Required course books and Sourcebook are on reserve at Tozzer & Lamont for Societies of the World 30 and at Grossman for Anth E -175.

Course Requirements:
Students are required to attend class regularly, participate vocally and in writing in the sections. There will be a take-home mid-term essay exam (5-7 pages), a take-home final exam (10-12 pages) and a class project. There will be occasional written assignments for section meeting discussions (not graded) and the opportunity to participate in an ‘altar building’ project for Día de Los Muertos at the Peabody Museum.
Grades will be determined by
Section Participation 20%

Mid-Term Exam 30%

Final Exam 40%

Special Project 10%

Course Syllabus

Part 1

Conquest or The Great Encuentro:

Ties of Desire and Destruction

Week 1 Introduction: Moctezuma’s Mexico-Then and Now
Sept. 2 Introduction to Course

Week 2 Great Encounters: Spaniards, Aztecs, Mayas, and Us

  • Díaz del Castillo, History of Conquest of New Spain, pp. 6-130, plus “Cortes and the Sacred Ceiba” pp. 399-404 (HCNS)

  • Stephens, John L., “Copan,” in Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, pp. 33-59. R

  • Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, pp. xiii-44.

Tues Sept. 7 Great Encounters: Spaniards and Aztecs

Thurs. Sept 9 Great Encounters and Great Traditions: Spaniards and Maya

Week 3 Toward the Splendid Cities: Desire and Destruction


  • Wheatley, Paul, “City as Symbol” R

  • Díaz del Castillo, pp. 131-302

  • Adorno, Rolena, "Bernal Diaz del Castillo: Soldier, Eyewitness, Polemicist" in HCNS

  • Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests, pp. 44-92.

  • Boone, Elizabeth, “The House of the Eagle”, Course Webpage

Tues: 14th Cities as Symbols

Thurs. 16th War of the Worlds: Massacres and the New City of Mexico

Part 2

Mesoamerica before the Moctezumas: Cosmovisions, Kings, and New Fires
Week 4 Sacred Hills, Cities, and Cosmovisions: Teotihuacan and Copan

  • Schele, Linda and Mary Ellen Miller, “Prologue” and “The Modern Invention

of The Ancient Maya” R

  • López Austin, Alfredo, “Relationships of the Essences” R

  • Fash, William, Scribes, Warriors and Kings: The City of Copán and the Ancient Maya, chs.1-4

  • Fash, William, “Maya” Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures Hollis Link

  • Fash, William L., Alexandre Tokovinine and Barbara W. Fash, “The House of New Fire at Teotihuacan and its Legacy in Mesoamerica” R

  • Townsend, Richard, The Aztecs, pp. 7-50.

Tues 21 Teotihuacan: City of the Gods
Thurs 23 Teotihuacan and the Maya

Week 5 Centers and Peripheries in Geography and Time

  • Fash, W., Scribes, Warriors, and Kings, chs. 5-8.

  • Saturno, William “Centering the Kingdom, Centering the King: Maya Creation and Legitimation at San Bartolo” R

  • Austin, Alfredo López, “Making a Model” R

  • Díaz del Castillo, pp. 329-353

Sept 28th Copan and Classic Maya Civilization

Sept 30st Pilgrimage among Maya then and Now
Part 3

Religion and Archaeology of the Great Aztec Temple
Week 6 The Aztec Revolution and the Rise of Tenochtitlan: Myths of Aztlán and War Gods

  • Davíd Carrasco and Matos Moctezuma, Eduardo, Moctezuma’s Mexico, chs. 1, 2

  • Townsend, R., The Aztecs, pp. 51-160.

  • Carrasco, D., "Tenochtitlán as a Political Capital and World Symbol" HCNS

  • “Legend of the Suns” R

  • Duran, Diego, “The Ball Game” R

  • Clendinnen, I., Ambivalent Conquests, pp. 131-139.

Oct 5 Aztec Tenochtitlan as a Cosmic Symbol

Oct 7 Cosmic Terror and the City

Week 7 Human Sacrifice and the Adventure of Archaeology at the Great Aztec Temple

  • Townsend, R., The Aztecs, pp. 162-220.

  • Matos and Carrasco, Moctezuma’s Mexico, chs. 3,4

  • Henninger, Joseph, “Sacrifice: First Edition” Hollis Link to Encyclopedia Of Religion

  • Carrasco, D., “Sacrifice: Further Reflections” Hollis Link to Encyclopedia Of Religion

  • Sahagún, Bernardino de, “Tlacaxipehualitzli” R

  • “The Exaggerations of Human Sacrifice”, “Human Sacrifice/Debt Payments From the Aztec Point of View” HCNS

  • Clendinnen, I., Ambivalent Conquests, pp. 139-189.

Oct 12 Myths and Rites of Human Sacrifice

Oct 14 Archaeology of Great Temple
Week 8 Maya Religion and PilgrimageNow: The Lord of Looking Good

Oct 19-21


  • Stanzione, Vincent. “Returning Home Through a Violent World” “Entering the Atiteco World of Santiago Atitlan”, “The Creation of Mam, the Ancestor”

  • Carrasco, D., “When Strangers Come to Town: The Return of Quetzalcoatl and Millennial Discourse,” R

Mid-Term Examination—Take Home. Handed out Oct 19th, Due on October 26th

Part 4

Days of the Dead/Días de los Muertos Then and Here at Harvard
Week 9 Days of the Dead and Skeletons at the Feasts

Oct 26-28th


  • Carmichael & Sayer, The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead in Mexico,

pp. 6-45 R

  • Nutini, Hugo G., “Syncretism,” & Carlsen, Robert S. “Transculturation” Hollis Link to Oxford Encycylopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures

  • Olivier, Guilhem, “Sacred Bundles, Arrows and New Fire” R

Part 5

México Profundo: Race, Gender and La Virgen de Guadalupe
Week 10 Moctezuma and the Return to Aztlán

Nov 2-4

  • Carrasco, D., “Aztec Moments and Chicano Cosmovision” in Moctezuma's Mexico

  • Sahagún, Bernardino de, “The Aztec-Spanish Dialogues of 1524” R

  • Townsend, R., The Aztecs, pp. Chapters 10 & 11.

Tuesday, Nov. 2 Carrasco’s “Aztec Moment” in Mexico City

Thursday, Nov 4 The Myth of Aztlán: Then and Now

Week 11 Race Mixture, Castas, Gender and Indigenous ‘New Worlds’

Nov 9-11

  • Alberro, Solange, “Beatriz de la Fuente: Mulatto Mistress and MotherR

  • Karen Powers, “Colonial Sexuality” in HCNS

Week 12 The Tongues of the Serpent: Malinche & Anzaldúa

Nov 16-18

  • Sandra Cypess, “La Malinche as Palimpsest II” HCNS

  • Anzaldúa, Gloria E., Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Chapters 5 & 7, R

Nov. 16 Who is “La Malinche” Now?
Nov. 18 The New Mestiza Consciousness

Week 13, 14 & 15 La Virgen de Guadalupe: Then and Now
Nov. 23 The Virgen of Guadalupe: Then

  • Burkhart, Louise M., “The Cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe” R

  • Bonfil Batalla, Guillermo, México Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization, chs. 1-5

Thanksgiving Holiday Nov 24th – 28th
Nov 30th & Dec. 2 La Virgen de Guadalupe: Now

  • Carrasco, D., “Mesoamerica as a New World: Colonialism and Religious

Creativity,” Religions of Mesoamerica, Course Webpage

  • Bonfil Batalla, Guillermo, México Profundo, chs. 6-10.

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