Professor John Henderson's research interests revolve around the nature of early complex societies and the processes through which complexity develops. How do distinctions in status, wealth, and authority emerge? Under what circumstances do they intensify into stratification? How does stratification relate to the centralization of political power, to the emergence of kings and states? Another set of interests revolves around notions of identity. How are the groups with which people associate themselves, the categories to which they see themselves as belonging, reflected in material remains? How do these categories relate to the analytical categories archaeologists use?
Most of Professor Henderson's fieldwork in recent years has been in the lower Ulúa valley in Honduras, which was very poorly understood when he began, so much of the early work was very basic: documenting sites, creating typologies, building chronologies. The resulting sequence – stretching from about 2000 BC, before the beginnings of settled life, through the Colonial period – provides a very long perspective on the history of complexity and identity. The orthodox view of the region as peripheral to the adjacent Maya lowlands makes these issues particularly salient.
Professor Henderson explores the same themes – how identities and social distinctions develop and how architecture, imagery, and text are deployed to define, communicate, maintain, and enhance them – in the broader Mesoamerica context.