A Curator’s Look at Indigenous Mapping in the Early Americas (1500–1575)

John Hessler

A three-part Zoom Webinar Series held on Wednesday, 27 May, 2020; Monday, 1 June, 2020 ; Wednesday, 3 June 2020

The history of the earliest contact between the peoples of Europe and the Indigenous cultures of the Americas produced some of the most historically important and rare pieces of cartography ever created. The Nahuatl and Mixtec cultures of Mexico made maps unlike those of Europeans, and used a complex combination of hieroglyphs, iconography, and land measurement to produce beautiful examples of cartography that are at once histories, legal documents, and ethnobotanical records. This series of three seminars introduced participants to the materials, language, and the artists who made three of the most important of these cartographic histories to survive from the sixteenth century—the Oztoticpac Lands Map, the Codex Quetzalecatzin, and the Huexotzinco Codex—all of which are in the collections of the Library of Congress.

This three-part webinar series was presented live in June 2020. Each session consisted of a 30-minute lecture followed by 15 minutes for Q&A. The lecture portion of each session was recorded. You are invited to watch recordings of the event below via our RBS YouTube channel. 

Part 1: ​“​​Is it true that one lives on the earth? A cartographer’s view of the Oztoticpac Lands Map” 27 May 2020

Part 2: “​​Land and Symbol: Reading the Mixtec-Puebla Mapa [Codex] Quetzalecatzin” 1 June 2020

Part 3: “The Amatl of Cortes: Papers, Plants & the Complex Manuscript History of the Huexotzinco Codex” 3 June 2020

Further Reading

Although the bibliography surrounding the subject of these short seminars is extensive, these are a few of the books John Hessler would recommend for anyone who wants to go further into these indigenous documents, their authors, and their histories and materials.

Boone, Elizabeth Hill. Stories in Red and Black: Pictorial Histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.

Douglas, Eduardo de J. In the Palace of Nezahualcoyotl: Painting Manuscripts, Writing the Pre-Hispanic Past in Early Colonial Period Tetzcoco, Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.

Hessler, John W. Collecting for a New World: Treasures of the Early Americas.  Washington, DC: Giles Limited and the Library of Congress, 2019.

Magaloni Kerpel, Diana. The Colors of the New World: Artists, Materials, and the Creation of the Florentine Codex. Los Angeles: The Getty Research Institute, 2014.

Maffie, James. Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2014.

Mundy, Barbara E. The Mapping of New Spain: Indigenous Cartography and the Maps of the Relaciones Geograficas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Williams, Robert Lloyd. The Complete Codex Zouche-Nuttall: Mixtec Lineage Histories and Political Biographies. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013.