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Mesoamerican Codices: New Discoveries and New Directions

Dumbarton Oaks, Library of Congress, and National Museum of the American Indian
March 12  –  13, 2019
Pre-Columbian Studies Colloquium, Diana Magaloni Kerpel and Barbara E. Mundy, Organizers

The marriage of science and the humanities has led to new understandings of the physical nature of these codices, the manuscripts created by indigenous artists in the Americas, most of them from Mesoamerica, where an indigenous tradition of manuscript making had a millennium-long history. Research scientists working in laboratories across Europe and the Americas have interrogated these precious works using both noninvasive and invasive techniques, and now we now know more about the physical nature of substrates, surfaces, pigments, and binders than at any point since the moment of their facture. At the same time, scholars in the humanities have offered new insights into indigenous conceptions of the material world and processes of facture. This colloquium seeks to bring together some of the leading scientists and humanist scholars of the codices to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue. How can the questions humanists seek to answer about the codices—the meaning of their iconographies and semantic systems, the reasons for their creation, the identities and social roles of their creators, their biographies over time—inform, and be informed by, the new discoveries that have been made on the scientific front? And how can discoveries made, and questions posed by the humanities inspire the work of scientists?

Long at the forefront of fostering interdisciplinary dialogues in Pre-Columbian Studies, Dumbarton Oaks will bring together scholars—among them laboratory scientists and humanists—to foster cross-disciplinary dialogue, thereby advancing “the state of the question” as it is asked within specific fields. The colloquium will include one day at Dumbarton Oaks, and a second day at the Library of Congress and the National Museum of the American Indian to examine works in situ.

Please note, this event is not open to the public.

Unknown artists (central Mexico), Huexotzinco Codex, ca. 1531. Pigment and ink on amatl paper. Library of Congress, Washington, DC (artwork in the public domain)