Kevin Terraciano to publish two new books

Two new volumes edited by the Latin American Institute director come out this summer. Both address, in whole or in part, Mesoamerican culture and the Florentine Codex.

Kevin Terraciano to publish two new books

Jacket cover of "The Florentine Codex: An Encyclopedia of the Nahua World in Sixteenth-Century Mexicoā€¯ (University of Texas Press, forthcoming).

By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

UCLA International Institute, June 10, 2019 — Two new works edited by Kevin Terraciano, director of the Latin American Institute and professor of history at UCLA, will be published this summer.

Canons and Values: Ancient to Modern,” co-edited by Terraciano and Larry Silver (Farquhar Professor emeritus of art history, University of Pennsylvania) will be published by the Getty Research Institute in August 2019. “The Florentine Codex: An Encyclopedia of the Nahua World in Sixteenth-Century Mexico,” co-edited by Terraciano and Jeanette Favrot Peterson (research professor of art history, UC Santa Barbara) will be released by the University of Texas Press in September.

An historian of the indigenous peoples of Mexico in the colonial era, Terraciano’s work relies on primary documentation written in Nahuatl, Mixtec, Zapotec and Spanish. In fact, he has published several co-edited and co-translated several volumes of original Mesoamerican documents. Recently named Dr. E. Bradford Burns Chair in Latin American Studies in the department of history, the UCLA professor is also co-chair of the Latin American Studies M.A. Program of the International Institute.

The “Canons and Values” volume to be released in August critically explores the enduring canon of European art in relation to other cultural canons worldwide, including those of Africa, India, East Asia, Mesoamerica, South America and ancient Egypt. In many ways, the book creates an intellectual framework for the second volume, an in-depth examination of “The Florentine Codex,” an encyclopedia of Aztec knowledge written by Nahua scholars in the mid-1500s under the direction of Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún.

Originally known as “General History of the Things of New Spain,” the codex consists of 12 books in three bound volumes that feature side-by-side texts in classical Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and Spanish (translations by Sahagún), together with more than 2,000 illustrations hand-painted by Nahua artists. The sole original copy of the codex is held by the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence.

The story of the codex’s creation, transmittal to Europe and preservation is a topic worthy of a film (see this article). As a result, the existence of the codex was unknown in Mexico until the 19th century and remains largely unknown to most Nahuas, the present-day descendants of the Aztecs in Mexico.

Scholarship and technology make Florentine Codex accessible

The University of Texas volume resulted from a conference held at the Getty Research Institute (GRI) and UCLA in 2015, cosponsored by GRI, the UCLA Latin American Institute and several other UCLA research centers. The book coincides with Terraciano’s continuing work on the Florentine Codex Initiative, a project that he co-founded with co-editor Peterson; Diana Magaloni, director, Art of Ancient Americas Institute, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Kim Richter, senior research specialist, Getty Research Institute. A collaboration between GRI and the Biblioteca Laurenziana, the initiative aims to create a high-resolution, interactive digital online version of the codex, complete with annotated translations and an audio recording in Nahuatl. 

Historian  Kevin Terraciano. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.) Magaloni is also a contributor to the new volume, which will include 115 of the high-resolution color digital images of the codex created by the Getty. The volume also includes contributions by three scholars from Mexico and the former director of the Biblioteca Laurenziana. Terraciano authored the introduction, which places the encyclopedia within its historical and cultural context and outlines its contents, as well as a chapter on book 12 — the longest existing indigenous account of the Spanish Conquest. In the latter chapter, the historian explores the discrepancies between the Nahuatl original and Sahagún’s translation.

Although not the first scholarly work on the Florentine Codex, Terraciano says, “We are the first to examine the images produced by native artists and how the Nahuatl and Spanish texts relate to the painted images — many of the contributors are art historians.

“Since the Nahuas and other Mesoamerican groups used a pictorial system of writing before the Spanish conquest, the images remain central to the narratives,” he explains.

Initially funded in part by the Seaver Institute, the Florentine Codex Initiative recently received additional funding of nearly $2 million from the J. Paul Getty Trust. The digital version of the codex is expected to launch in 2021, with an e-book focusing on book 12 slated to be released the same year.

This fall (October 3–4, 2019), the Getty Research Institute will host a two-day symposium on Mesoamerican responses to Spanish colonial rule: “1519, the Arrival of Strangers: Indigenous Art and Voices following the Spanish Conquest of Mesoamerica.” A third day of the symposium will follow on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles.

Another book on the horizon

Meanwhile, Terraciano will spend this summer completing a new monograph on the Codex Sierra. “The book is a facsimile of a 62-page manuscript written in Nahuatl in a Mixtec community of Oaxaca from 1550 to 1564,” says the historian. In addition to historical analysis of the manuscript, the book will include a transcription and translation of the original Nahuatl text by Terraciano. The historian has conducted research in classical Nahuatl for over 25 years and is a speaker of modern Nahuatl, the teaching of which he introduced to UCLA four years ago.

“The Codex Sierra is a libro de cuentas (a book of accounts) that represents the earliest extant Native American book about money in the Americas,” comments Terraciano. “It records the income and expenditures of the community in this early period, only a generation after the Spanish Conquest. It’s a fascinating manuscript!” Look for the book in 2020.


Click here to go to the website