June 1, 2012

Tenants on Ranch

This photograph, taken in Chile, some time in the first quarter of the 20th century, is from the Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection at the Library of Congress. Frank G. Carpenter (1855-1924) was an American writer of books on travel and world geography whose works helped to popularize cultural anthropology and geography in the United States in the early years of the 20th century. Consisting of photographs taken and gathered by Carpenter and his daughter Frances (1890-1972) to illustrate his writings, the collection includes an estimated 16,800 photographs and 7,000 glass and film negatives. The photograph shows a group of people, most likely a family, in front of an adobe house with a thatched roof. The caption identifies the people as inquilinos, the Spanish word for tenant.

June 5, 2012

Letter to the Warring Tribes

Timbuktu, founded around 1100 as a commercial center for trade across the Sahara Desert, was also an important seat of Islamic learning from the 14th century onward. The libraries of Timbuktu contain many important manuscripts, in different styles of Arabic scripts, which were written and copied by Timbuktu’s scribes and scholars. These works constitute the city’s most famous and long-lasting contribution to Islamic and world civilization. In this work, the author, a scholar and religious leader, urges warring factions to make peace and live in peace. He supports his argument with quotations from the Koran and allusions to the practice of Muhammad and his companions, which require the faithful to avoid discord, to reconcile, and to live in peace and tolerance.

June 8, 2012

Monumental Jaguar Sculpture

This painted buff ceramic sculpture was made in southern Veracruz, Mexico, in 600-900 AD, or the Late Classic Period of Mesoamerican civilization. Scholars traditionally have defined Mesoamerica as a cultural region comprising the modern countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras, and El Salvador. Its history is divided into an Archaic Period (circa 12,000-1500 BC), a Preclassic or Formative Period (circa 1500 BC-200 AD), a Classic Period (circa 200-900 AD), and a Postclassic Period (circa 900-1500 AD). The tropical jaguar was a major sacred creature in much of Mesoamerica, whose peoples believed that they possessed animal companion spirits or co-essences. These animal or composite forms were often depicted in various media. In this sculpture, the modeling of the body is more human than feline, connoting the deification of the animal. Jaguars were the special patrons and protectors of kings, as well as deities representing the sun in its nocturnal aspect. Many Mayan kings selected the name “Balam,” meaning “jaguar,” on ascending to the throne. This particular sculpture is unusual because it is a full figure. Originally, it may have flanked the throne of a Mayan lord or king.

“The Book of Simple Medicine and Plants” from “The Canon of Medicine”

Abū Alī al-Ḥusayn Ibn Sīnā (also known by the Latinized version of his name, Avicenna, 980–1037 AD; 370–428 AH) was a Muslim Persian polymath and the foremost physician and philosopher of his time. In his Introduction to the History of Science, the eminent historian of science George Sarton (1884–1956) characterized Ibn Sina as “one of the most famous exponents of Muslim universalism and an eminent figure in Islamic learning,” noting that “for a thousand years he has retained his original renown as one of the greatest thinkers and medical scholars in history.” Ibn Sina’s Al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb (The canon of medicine) is his best known work. Summarizing the medical knowledge of the time and comprising five volumes, it is considered one of the great classics in the history of medicine. It was regarded as a medical authority as late as the early 19th century. According to Sarton, The Canon of Medicine contains “some of the most illuminating thoughts pertaining to distinction of mediastinitis from pleurisy; contagious nature of phthisis; distribution of diseases by water and soil; careful description of skin troubles; of sexual diseases and perversions; [and] of nervous ailments.” Presented here is Kitāb al-adwiyah al-mufradah wa al-nabātāt (The book of simple medicine and plants), the materia medica excerpt from Al-Qānūn fi al-ṭibb.

June 12, 2012

Techialoyan Codex of Cuajimalpa

The Techialoyan Codex of Cuajimalpa is one of the Techialoyan codices, the generic name for a group of documents produced by the same team of people in a wide area of central Mexico, mostly from 1685 to 1703. The codex describes a meeting of the notables of the town of San Pedro Cuajimalpa, held to confirm the territorial limits of the town, the places it included, its districts, and its tributary towns. The object of this ceremony, a fusion of the ancient Mesoamerican and European cultural practices, was to legitimate possession of the land. The text and pictures complement each other and include the signatures of the notables present. The iconography is rich in representations of plants, architecture, and people, both indigenous and European. Throughout its history, San Pedro Cuajimalpa used this document to prove its rights to its lands, which it retained until 1865. In that year, Maximilian of Hapsburg, and his wife, Carlota, visited the Convent of the Desierto de los Leones (Desert of the Lions), where they spoke with the residents and the neighboring towns. As a result of this meeting, the residents of Cuajimalpa presented this document to a court to be translated, from Náhuatl to Spanish, and authenticated, which was done that same year by the paleographer Francisco Rosales. At the end of the 17th century, the indigenous populations of Mexico had grown, and as a result were trying to recover lands that had been absorbed by haciendas, ranches, and other towns, and the viceregal government was searching for mechanisms to regularize land tenure. Indigenous documents were used as probate records to prove the antiquity of towns and their possession of lands. Towns sought to provide evidence that they were cabeceras (judicial seats), not subject populations, and old settlements with long-established borders. Fifty examples of Techialoyan exist. Many of these documents are written with ink of European origin, in the Náhuatl language, using the Latin alphabet in capital letters and rough script, and often on amate (bark) paper. Iconographic elements repeat from one codex to another and most use a dense opaque watercolor. Among the motifs that appear with great frequency are indigenous people, churches, hills, and plants. Texts also repeat in many of the documents, although in each case making reference to a particular town. The settlements that ordered a Techialoyan codex made sure that it contained essential information on the founding and history of the town. It is for this reason that these codices contain descriptions or pictures of agricultural lands and woodlands, geographical elements marking property lines, and information about noble leaders or their representatives and the size of settlements and neighborhoods. Currently, the Techialoyan Codex of Cuajimalpa is in the Archivo General de la Nación de México, Record Group Tierras, volume 3684, file 1, sheets 1-27.

Marquesado del Valle Codex

This exceptionally valuable file contains 28 separate petitions from different leaders and towns of the Marquesado del Valle, protesting seizures of lands and sugar mills by Hernán Cortés, the first marquess. The Marquesado comprised the present-day Mexican state of Morelos as well as parts of the states of Puebla, Oaxaca, and Mexico. The great sugar plantations that Cortés created were organized by renting, buying, or seizing gardens, fields, and other lands that had belonged to the caciques (Indian nobles), towns, and districts since time immemorial. Throughout the 16th century, the indigenous and European economies functioned alongside each other. Indians tried to retain what was theirs while the Spaniards were forcefully expanding their holdings. The petitions, principally concerning agriculture, were written in the middle of the 16th century. They generally contain a text in Náhuatl that explains the nature of the complaint and a rough drawing or map made by tlacuilos (Indian painters). Full of symbolism, information, and indigenous knowledge, these drawings indicate ownership of land parcels; show place names with topographic glyphs; show the size of parcels according to Mesoamerican calculations; indicate the type of production and the quantities; and give the names of ruling chiefs and other assorted facts. These documents provide important detail about the geography of vast zones of central Mexico at the beginning of the viceregal period, a time when the region was undergoing rapid transformation. Currently, the Marquesado del Valle Codex is in the Archivo General de la Nación de México, Record Group Hospital de Jesús, volume 487, bundle 276.