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Maya Conceptions of History in a Mesoamerican Perspective

Federico Navarrete Linares, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Summer Fellow 2009

During my summer fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks I reviewed the most recent scholarship on Maya epigraphy and history to propose new perspectives of analysis for Maya conceptions of time and of history. My aim is to identify the different chronotopes contained in Classic period inscriptions and Colonial texts and images—the ways in which they represented and materialized time and space, as well as the ways in which the Maya conceived the relationship between past, present, and future and the role of human agency in the flow of history.

I have identified the following key problems, which are also objects of debate among contemporary scholars:

  • To what extent and in what manner did the highly complex Maya conceptions of time and its many cycles influence or determine their behavior and actions?
  • What were the relationships between specific events and individuals and the historical and supernatural precedents with which they were related in Maya histories? Was it a question of cyclical repetition, of ritual reenactment, or of rhetorical analogy?
  • What are the continuities and differences between the historical conceptions of the Classic period, centered on the Long Count chronological system, and those of Postclassic and Colonial times, centered on the Katun cycle?

To address these problems, we need to read beyond the explicit meanings of Maya epigraphic and alphabetic texts, seeking to understand the cognitive and historical premises that informed them, and the political and ideological messages they were trying to convey.