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AAH 370: The Arts of Ancient Mesoamerica

Gitenstein Library resources and beyond


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David C. Murray
TCNJ Library,
Room 216
Skype Contact: xpuhil

Course Introduction

Textbook (required):

Additional readings (required):

Final grades result from a combination of the following:

  • Class participation (10%)
  • Perusall readings and comments (25%)
  • Information literacy (IL) assignments (45% of total):
  • Formal analysis of a Mesoamerican artwork in two parts:
    • Written (10%)
      • Prompt available October 21
      • Due November 17
    • Presentation (10%)
      • Prompt available October 21
      • Online signup sheet available November 1
      • Due December 1 or 8 depending on your sign-up date

"There is a long and painful distance between the lived Mexica [Aztec] world and the small clutter of carved stones and painted paper, the remembered images and words, from which we seek to make that world again. Historians of remote places and peoples are the romantics of the human sciences, Ahabs pursuing our great white whale, dimly aware that the whole business is, if coolly considered, rather less than reasonable. We will never catch him, and don't much want to; it is our own limitations of thought, of understandings, or imagination we test as we quarter those strange waters. And then we think we see a darkening in the deeper water, a sudden surge, the roll of a fluke—and then the heart-lifting glimpse of the great white shape, its whiteness throwing back its own particular light, there, on the glimmering horizon" (Clendinnen 1995, 275).

Complementary of this admonition is D'Alleva's warning about "confronting your assumptions" (61). Drawing snap judgments about artists' motivations or cultural practices is a fraught exercise, even more so when studying the arts of non-Western peoples. Art historians do not (or should not) claim universal knowledge or position themselves as detached observers. Rather, as with everyone else, scholars bring their own cultural contexts and experiences to their work. This phenomenon does not preclude scholars from performing art historical analyses, of course, but we should acknowledge our individual subjectivity. Scholars, then, advance arguments based on solid evidence and sound reasoning rather than assumption or claims of universality.

Albrecht Dürer on Mesoamerican Art

Cocijo_Zapotec"All the days of my life," wrote the German engraver, printmaker, and painter Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), "I have seen nothing that rejoiced my heart so much as these things, for I saw amongst them wonderful works of art, and I marveled at the subtle ingenuity of men of foreign lands" (147).

Shown: Zapotec Anthropomorphic Urn — Post-Classic Period (900-1300 CE)