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The Codex Mexicanus on the Mexica of Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco

Lori Boornazian Diel, Texas Christian University, Summer Fellow 2012

My research at Dumbarton Oaks focused on a sixteenth-century Aztec manuscript called the Codex Mexicanus.  Most of the information in this extensive bound book is recorded pictorially, and Dumbarton Oaks’ resources allowed me to hone my reading of this manuscript through comparisons with other contemporary sources, from colonial Mexico and also Europe.  I initially suspected that the manuscript placed an unusual emphasis on Tlatelolco and may have been created in that city, but now I find it more likely that the Mexicanus was a product of Mexico City-Tenochtitlan.  I was also interested in the calendric sections of the manuscript, which reveal a high degree of contact with European concepts of time and Christianity.  I questioned why the creators of the manuscript included such information in a manuscript focused largely on pre- and post-conquest Aztec history.  To answer this question, I explored the work’s late sixteenth-century context.  At the time the Mexicanus was created, New Spain was experiencing significant upheavals.  Indigenous peoples were still recovering, physically and mentally, from a massive epidemic that devastated the population, and the church was undergoing its own transformation, as the mendicant orders were being stripped of their power.  I suspect the Mexicanus painters were impacted by these events and created this book out of a desire to preserve historical memory and to have their own guide for Christian worship, one intended only for Nahua eyes.

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