Instructor: John Henderson
An introduction to ancient Mesoamerica, focusing on the nature and development of societies that are arguably the most complex to develop anywhere in the precolumbian Americas. The course provides a summary of the history of the region before the European invasion, but the emphasis is on the organization of Mesoamerican societies: the distinctive features of Mesoamerican cities, economies, political systems, religion. We begin by considering Mesoamerican societies at the time of the Spanish invasion. Our focus will be on descriptions of the Aztecs of Central Mexico by Europeans and indigenous survivors, in an attempt to extract from them a model of the fundamental organizational features of one Mesoamerican society, making allowances for what we can determine about the perspectives and biases of their authors. We then review the precolumbian history of Mesoamerica looking for variations on these themes as well as indications of alternative forms of organization. We will also look at such issues as the transition from mobile to sedentary lifeways, the processes involved in the domestication of plants and animals, the emergence of cities and states, and the use of invasion-period and ethnographic information to interpret precolumbian societies in comparative perspective.