Cuauhyotl Tlatlalantatacac Oceloyotl (The Brave, the Miner of Deep Caves, the Courageous): Territorial Defense, Rent Extraction and Epidemiological Shocks in Colonial Mexico

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Talk Description

In the aftermath of the European conquest of the Americas, it is well known that indigenous peoples were vulnerable to the newly arrived pathogens. In this research I argue, however, the deadliest impact of the European invasion was the disruption of political systems and preexisting governance arrangements, replaced by European extractive institutions, particularly the encomienda. Through a concentrated study of the city-state / Altepetl of Tepetlaoztoc, a lordship within the Acolhua kingdom headed by Texcoco, one of the members of the Triple Alliance, the research seeks to understand political agency in indigenous territories during the early colonial period in what is today modern Mexico. Reconstructing the demographic trends, using indigenous legal records, I show how encomienda exploitation undermined the chances of indigenous communities to help themselves, when confronted with epidemic disease. Drawing from indigenous land cadasters and censuses, I also provide statistical evidence regarding individual and household mortality patterns during the epidemic shock of 1545, brought about by a disease already existing in the Americas, the huey cocoliztli. And re-reading indigenous cartographic sources, I provide a linguistic interpretation of how communities in 16th century New Spain understood political authority and sovereignty. In conclusion, in my view encomiendas produced far greater human suffering among the original peoples of the Americas than either epidemic diseases or other inhuman extractive colonial institutions, including slavery.

About the Speaker 

Alberto Diaz-Cayeros joined the FSI faculty in 2013. He is also the Director of the Center for Latin American Studies. From 2008 to 2013 he was Associate Professor at the University of California, San Diego, and Director of the Center for US-Mexico Studies. He was an assistant professor of political science at Stanford from 2001-2008, before which he served as an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles. Diaz-Cayeros has also served as a researcher at Centro de Investigacion Para el Desarrollo, A.C. in Mexico from 1997-1999. He earned his Ph.D at Duke University in 1997. His work has focused on federalism, poverty and violence in Latin America, and Mexico in particular. He has published widely in Spanish and English. His book Federalism, Fiscal Authority and Centralization in Latin America was published by Cambridge University Press in 2007 (reprinted 2016). His latest book (with Federico Estevez and Beatriz Magaloni) is: The Political Logic of Poverty Relief Electoral Strategies and Social Policy in Mexico (2016).