WWW: Primary Documents at The Mesolore Project

I wonder if students who are taught history exclusively by reading history textbooks ever learn to be historians.

With that in mind, The Mesolore Project is a bilingual, primary document resource for scholars and students of Mesoamerica. Its developers, Liza Bakewell and Byron Hamann have structured the Project to “focus on the value of consulting primary documents at any age.” Mesolore features three sixteenth-century interactive documents from Central Mexico and three from the Mixtec area of Oaxaca.

This resource is fascinating. One of the Central Mexican documents, the Nahua Matrícula de Tributos, includes pages that likely pre-date the conquest of Mexico, recording the geographical extent of the “Aztec” empire.

With the Mesolore Project, anyone can be an historian. The pages of the Matrícula de Tributos are interactive, and clicking on a particular glyph will generate a descriptive caption. I clicked on some images and learned, for instance, that prior to the arrival of Europeans, Tlatelolco was apparently forced to send hundreds of bundles of white capes and loincloths to Tenochtitlan every 80 days. But who made these white capes and loincloths? How many weavers and spinners were involved? What did these people think about their obligations to neighboring Tenochtitlan?

This is where it becomes meaningful to think about the sources of history. As the Mesolore Project points out, “the vision of empire recorded in the Matrícula is idealized and simplistic. Its pages are painted from the point of view of Tenochtitlan.” It’s true. The Matrícula treats Tlatelolco like nothing more than a column on a balance sheet. Students should recognize that this perspective is skewed.

I highly recommend exploring this website if you’d like to incorporate Mesoamerica into your larger scheme of promoting critical analysis and recognition of multiple perspectives and multiple modes of interpretation.

While the Mesolore Project does not include any lesson plans, we have an excellent series of related lesson plans written by Ella-Kari Loftfield called “The Conquest of Spanish America.” Loftfield’s unit explores in depth Tenochtitlan, Tlatelolco, and the European conquest of Mexico. See particularly “Lesson 3: Indigenous Pictorial History,” which will give students the interpretive tools necessary for reading the codices that are featured at the Mesolore Project.

Hope this is helpful,

Adam.

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