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Professor Kathleen Myers recently published "In the Shadow of Cortes: Conversations along the Route of Conquest"  with the University of Arizona Press.

The army of conquest led by Hernán Cortés was the catalyst for profound cultural and political change in Mesoamerica. In the Shadow of Cortés: Conversations along the Route of Conquest draws on over 100 ethnographic interviews in which Mexicans from all walks of life point to a complex web of factors that have made the conquest narrative integral to contemporary culture and politics.  Many view the geographic trajectory of the Ruta de Cortés from Veracruz to Mexico City as a symbol that maps historical and social memory, becoming what scholars like Pierre Nora refer to as a “site of memory,” a place where memories have crystalized local and especially national history.  Today all along the Ruta de Cortés Mexicans take a profound interest in issues of cultural identity and social equality associated with the conquest narrative. While some informants self-consciously create alternative stories in search of personal meaning, others begin by retelling the state-sponsored account, only to deviate from it to include their own contemporary experiences. At the heart of these negotiations with the conquest story there is conflict about “who gets to talk” and “whose story this is.”  There is much at stake: “who gets to talk” and who is listened to can decide very real issues of privilege and access to power. The topic of conquest often becomes a springboard for Mexicans to consider a number of more contemporary issues—in particular, the status of indigenous populations today and the relationship between Mexico and the U.S. The story has grown to include pre-Hispanic conquests by the Aztecs, Spanish and other European incursions, and later processes of nation building, as well as the effects of neoliberal policies, U.S. imperialism and the shockwaves of globalization.

From 2006-2010 Professor Myers collected interviews with Mexicans living and working at various sites along the Ruta de Cortés.  During these visits she followed the rhythm of a traveler  along the Ruta de Cortés, visiting crucial as well as less important “sites of memory” (a grand pyramid, a monumental statue, an obscure plaque or regional museum) and developed a cultural cartography, a map of the varied personal and historical geographies on which the conquest stories are grounded. Thus the conquest narratives collected begin in Veracruz (site of Cortés’ first landing) and follow the geographic route to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (contemporary Mexico City).  But then, following informants’ suggestions, the narrative turns northward to examine the contemporary “conquest” story, revealing new insights into conflicts over lands, cultures, and economic realities today.

The living cultural narrative revealed by the interviews is illustrated and exemplified by a collection of visual imagery drawn from historical codices, popular culture, and archival sources as well as original contemporary photographs. In the Shadow of Cortés offers a collection of imagery as a visual cultural narrative in its own right. Imagery has always been an integral part of the creation of cultural and religious identity in Mesoamerica. The richly illustrated codices were used as mnemonic devices by pre-Hispanic tlacuiloque (plural for tlacuilo), the specially trained scribes and painters, for ceremonial retellings of the past. After the conquest, Spaniards used visual imagery as a tool for converting indigenous populations to new meanings and practices. The influx of European images changed the nature of the codices and stone carvings, but the importance of visual culture remained. Highly charged symbolic imagery was also widely employed in nineteenth-century nation building and in post-Revolutionary Mexican cultural and political campaigns, such as the muralist movement. Over the centuries an extensive, heterogeneous visual narrative about the conquest and Mexican history has influenced the conceptualization of “Mexico.”  Visual imagery serves as another framework to witness and interpret social and historical memory.

A pervasive sense of the contemporary relevance of historical events comes through the distinct registers of each story and the collection of imagery in Myers' book.  As Mexican reporter Jacobo Romero noted, “There is nothing more alive than History. Nothing ignites more passion than what happened centuries ago, since the interpretation of memory moves our present.”